11: Echoes of the Past III:
Souls Lay Smoldering
The Vanhele Center, Asgard
It is often said that before disaster strikes, one can feel premonition creep across their senses like an icy black wind. As Darrell watched his parents secretly sabotage the Mammon Project for a few weeks, he certainly felt that premonition… that black wind.
Although everyone was certainly kind to the two, and admiring of the skill they showed whenever their work was being double-checked, there was still an aura of… suspicion around the entire scene. A delirious sort of glee covered the Mammon lab, and Darrell wasn’t sure he cared for the almost insane level of hysteria that the scientists of Zion were exhuming.
And neither did Olin Shanning.
“Julia… something’s very, very wrong here. The Mammon Machine isn’t functional yet, and yet it feels like… you can almost feel the lavoid’s very presence in this room.” The Rivenian said, not even looking at his wife. The two were sitting at a row of computers, supposedly writing code for the machine’s infrastructure. In reality, the program they were writing would cause the machine to destroy itself the moment the code was called into play.
“I know what you mean, but you shouldn’t call me that here, ‘Vic.’” She returned, quietly. “But it is… eerie, really. Like something’s watching us.”
“Something, more like… but it’s good to know I’m not just being paranoid.”
“Never that, Olin. Never that.” She said, and went back to concentrating on her coding before Olin could note that she’d just disobeyed her own advice.
A cry from the other side of the lab a few minutes later disrupted their work entirely. “That’s it!!!”
Olin and Julia stood up simultaneously to see what the commotion was, and saw Doctor Masters doing a victory dance of some sort over one of the computer monitors.
Olin hurriedly walked over to the head of the project, flanked by a number of the other scientists.
“What’s going on, Doctor Masters?” Olin asked, confused.
“I’ve found it, Irvin! The mythical energy source!!!”
Olin blinked as he took on the full meaning of those words, but kept his knowledge to himself. As he’d told Julia when they came to Zion, one always had to be certain. “Explain yourself please, doctor.”
The doctor blinked, and showed Olin the clipboard he’d been waving around in his hands. “It’s really true!! The creature we are building this machine for… has a huge storage of ether energy!! Energy such as has only been seen in the Sol Dominion for millennia!! And of such variations… oh, so many different types of it that even the Dominionites would be taken aback!”
“Calm down, Doctor.” Another of the scientists said, putting a restraining hand on Masters as he whirled around giddily.
“Don’t you know what this means, boys? Not only will this machine make us rich, as its name would suggest, it shall give us power beyond our wildest dreams! Perhaps even the possibility of everlasting life…”
Olin couldn’t take any sort of reasoning along those lines, and though he could not truly speak his mind on the matter, he had to say something. “Doctor, shouldn’t we do more research before we make any premature conjectures on what this ether energy is capable of?”
“Oh, bah on you, Irvin. Anything is possible with ether energy! You should have SEEN the readings on my computer… well, I printed them out! Look at them!” he thrust the clipboard in Olin’s face. He was disturbed, but not surprised, to find that they went off the scale in almost all areas.
‘From the look of these readings, the thing’s at least a Class B… this is bad.’ He thought, while trying to look properly enthused by the readings.
“See, see?” Masters continued, beaming from ear to ear. “Just think of it, Irvin… all of you! Never dying… never again hungering or thirsting. Just eternal life, and eternal power, all because of this wondrous…” he was cut off suddenly by a voice from a dark corner of the room.
“Power of the lavoid.” Darrell would’ve jerked were he able at the sound of that voice. It was… him.
Once the room had fallen properly silent at the shock of the intrusion, none other than Grey Terin stepped into full view, attired exactly as he had been just a few short weeks ago, when Darrell had seen him.
“Who the hell are you?!” Masters said, recoiling at the rather unsettling sight of the man. Olin and Julia both, Darrell noted, had tried to fade into the back of the crowd when they’d seen Grey… but the young man was having trouble concentrating on anyone but the black-clad one.
“I am… many things, good doctor. Warrior, peacemaker… enemy, friend… student, master.” Grey seemed to shrug off the question even as he answered it, and he stepped over to gaze upon the nearly-completed Mammon Machine in interest.
“Hey! Get away from that!!!” a young male scientist yelled as Grey approached it. As he did, Grey turned to him with what was surely – it was hard to tell with the mask – a scowl on his face, and lifted one gloved hand.
“You annoy me, child. Dark Bomb.” As he said the words, black energy arced off of his fingertips. It spread out into a dome of energy as it reached the bold scientist, and knocked him and several others nearby across the room.
Those who had not been hit with the spell all recoiled as far away from the mysterious man as they could… while simultaneously trying not to attract his attention.
Darrell took a quick glance back at his father, to see him clenching his fists in rage. Julia seemed to be holding him back, in fact, whispering words in his ear.
Grey studied the Mammon Machine in silence for a few moments, then turned and looked straight at Doctor Masters. “So… you want this machine to give you eternal life.”
Masters looked down at his toes, and swallowed hard. “I… er… I-I… yes. Yes, I do.”
Grey laughed, a frightening, ghostly wisp of a laugh. “You think that harnessing the power of a lavoid will make you a god? Honestly… if Sephiroth could not succeed with Jenova on his side, you most certainly could not with one resisting your efforts.”
“W-what?” Masters stammered, looking up at Grey. “W-w-who?”
“It doesn’t matter.” Grey said, waving the question off. “You are all idiots. Typically, of course, I wouldn’t care… but your good senator has forced my hand.”
“What are you saying?!” Masters said, not liking Grey’s tone. The scientist unconsciously backed up a few steps.
“That, while typically it would be most hilarious to see you invoke the wrath of a lavoid, Vanhele has aroused MY anger… and that is far more dangerous than any lavoid, class B or no.” Grey looked around at the pathetic, trembling assemblage of people, and snorted. “I fear that you’ll all simply have to die, along with this machine.”
With that, Olin could not be contained any longer. “NOOO!!!!” he yelled, rushing forward. “I know who you are, Terin, and you will not interfere in this!!”
There was a look of confusion in Grey’s eyes for a fraction of a second as he looked on Olin… but only for an instant. “Shanning. You’re… Olin Shanning, correct? So, the Council on Riven got wind of this as well, eh?”
Olin’s eyes narrowed, and he looked down on his clenched fists. “Indeed they did.”
“Then you should be happy I’m going to destroy this thing.”
“I’m not ever happy when you’re talking about killing a bunch of innocents.”
Grey snorted. “Innocents? Innocents? What a bunch of bunk. You heard this idiot of a doctor here, talking of immortality. It’s just like the situation on the test planet, and on countless others since then. You know that my way is the only way.”
“And I also know that if you’re taking an intrest in destroying this thing, you have something to gain from doing it your way. Which is exactly why I can’t let you do it.”
“You would challenge the might of a Wanderer?” Grey noted with interest.
“Oh, shut up, Terin. You’re not even really a Wanderer, just some lowly mage who came across some teleportation gizmo.”
The black-clad man’s eyes narrowed in anger. “You will regret that one, Shanning. I should have killed all of you Hunters back when I came to this dimension, twenty years ago.”
“Well, it’s a shame you didn’t, isn’t it?” Julia stepped forward, holding a long dagger in her hand. As she looked defiantly on Grey, she casually pulled another short blade from her pants and tossed it to Olin.
“Knives? Honestly, Shanning, you’ll have to do better than that.”
“These aren’t just any knives, wannabe-Wanderer. They’ve been imbued with magic beyond your comprehension.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that, now.” Grey said, putting one hand beneath his cloak. “I can comprehend quite a lot. But… this conversation bores me, and I sense that all of these ‘innocents’ of yours are getting restless as well. Let’s give them a show they won’t forget.”
With that, Grey drew out his longsword and rushed Olin, all while casting a fire spell on him. Olin recoiled as the blast of flame tore into him, but still managed to pull up his dagger to effectively block Grey’s sword.
“Impressive. It didn’t take you much effort to block my strike. What sort of enchantment is on that weapon?” Grey asked.
“Maybe if you were a better mage, you’d know, Terin.” Olin retorted, and let loose with a spell of his own. Two triangles, one white and one black, sprang from his hand and rushed at Grey. The white went into the black, and the two exploded into a spinning hexagon of energy.
Grey was rather surprised by the casting, to say the least, but not really hurt. “Dark Matter… most intriguing. The Hunters must have had you practicing since we last met, Shanning… but you’ll find I’m not much bothered by a simple shadow spell.”
“Maybe this’ll bother you a bit more, then!” Julia, having been temporarily forgotten by the Wanderer, yelled. Grey whirled to meet this new threat, but was thrown off-guard – and off of his feet – when a huge white ray of energy flew into him.
“What was that, Julia? Can’t say I’ve seen anything quite like that before.” Olin said, mentally preparing another spell as Grey got back up, seemingly undaunted.
“Low-level holy. I’ve been practicing.”
“You’ll have to practice harder than that, wench.” Grey said, pretending to be confident, but Olin could tell from the man’s tone that he was hurt. Unfortunately, that pain translated into anger, a fact made all too clear when Grey cast his next spell. “Merton!”
The incredibly powerful fire spell seared across the entire room, causing a chain reaction of explosions as computer monitor after computer monitor was hit. Had any of the scientists in the room been able to stand up against the blast, they would have been most disturbed to see the spell rip pieces of the Mammon Machine apart.
When the spell had dissipated, only Olin, Julia, and Grey remained standing. There was a temporary break in the fighting as all three cast healing spells on themselves – for the power of merton was so great that it even affected the caster. “I… don’t know how much longer I can keep this up.” Olin said, mostly to himself, as he held up his dagger defensively.
“You don’t? Ah, what a pity. I could do this all day.” Grey returned, and rushed Olin with his blade again. The Rivenite moved to block the strike again, but Grey anticipated that. Although it seemed physically impossible for him to do so, the Wanderer reversed his strike mere milliseconds before it met with Olin’s blade, and brought the hilt of the blade right into his forehead. He crumpled to the ground instantly, unconscious.
“Such a pity, little Hunter. I had thought you’d put up a better fight than that.” With that, he pulled his sword around again, and moved to stab the fallen Rivenite through the heart. Before he could complete the motion, he was knocked across the room by a blast of pure white light.
“Leave him alone!!!” Julia cried, her eyes lit up with an inner fire.
“You cast…. Pearl?” Grey said, staggering to his feet. His face plate had partially come off, and the features underneath… Julia almost retched as she saw them. The lower half of his face was a mass of scar tissue, with his nose and mouth almost indistinguishable from the rest of his face. “Oh… so… horrified with my appearance, are you? Blame your own Council for this… the fools scarred me beyond the abilities of magic to heal.”
“You deserved it, you imbecile.” Julia returned, and cast another pearl spell. Grey had expected this one, though, and a blanket of bluish energy surrounded him as it reached him. He laughed darkly.
“And you deserve much worse, little girl. Oh, by the way… repeating your little tricks will do you know good. That’s why I keep counterspells handy… just as long as you’re on a familiar wavelength, your attacks will do you no good.”
“You do realize that telling me that is idiocy.”
Grey smirked. “You do realize that there are only so many wavelengths.”
“More than enough to take the likes of you down, Terin.” She said, her eyes narrowing. After but a moment, she called forth a lightning bolt, seemingly from nowhere, to strike down on Grey’s head. He shrugged off the blow even as it made his hair stand up on end, and cast his own spell.
The fireball that erupted from his hand was more than enough to knock Julia off of her feet, and up against some of the fallen bodies of various scientists. She struggled to get up, but she’d landed strangely, and her leg was protesting violently.
“Oh… what a pity. I do believe you’ve broken something, miss.” Grey said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. Julia looked up at the man – noticing that he’d replaced his mask – and spat.
“Shut up! Just shut up!” she yelled at him, gritting her teeth against the fiery pain in her leg.
“Ouch… and look at this!” Grey said in feigned surprise. “It would appear that all of these poor, ‘innocent’ scientists are dead already. I suppose that merton was a bit much for them.”
“Curse… you.” Julia said, and closed her eyes in concentration. It didn’t matter if he could kill her, just so long as she could get off one last spell…
But she couldn’t. The ether energy that should have been flowing through the room, that HAD been flowing invisibly through the room but moments before was gone. “The winds… what’s happened to them?”
Grey seemed amused by this, and threw his head back to laugh. “Why, they’re still there, little child. But in your moment of weakness, I sealed your abilities. It’s a temporary situation, of course… but with the predicament you’re in, temporary becomes permanent very quickly, with just one thrust of the sword.”
Julia sank down further to the hard stone floor, and could have cried. But she wouldn’t let herself, not in front of this… this thing. “What’s your angle, anyway, Terin? What could you possibly gain by doing this?”
Grey crouched down over her. “Part of it, of course, is for my own satisfaction. You have no idea how good it feels to kill Hunters, after what you did to me… but that’s not all, of course. You see, Vanhele… has something of value to me… and needed a bit of persuasion to convince him I’m serious about wanting it back.”
Julia thought for a moment, then laughed. “He… stole your planeshifter, didn’t he? You’re…” she coughed. “stuck here, aren’t you?”
Grey’s eyes narrowed. “I think I’ve had just about enough of you. Die!!” as he yelled the last, he flipped his blade around in his hands, and thrust it through Julia’s chest. She died almost instantly, having only an instant to react before the weapon pierced her heart.
Darrell screamed out in hatred and horror as he watched it happen, and tried to do something, anything to kill the Wanderer. It proved futile, though, as incorporeal as he was, and he could only watch in horror as Grey stalked over to the still-unconscious Olin.
“You, Shanning,” Grey said to the unconscious man, “have caused me a great deal of trouble in the past. I’m sure you remember the fiasco when I first arrived… back on that lavoid infested planet in the Dominion. It was my first encounter with the Hunters of Riven… and you, headstrong fool that you were, took my power to mean I was part of the Farilii menace… you thought I was one of those lavoid-controlled fools.” He kicked Olin hard in the ribs. “And YOU did this to my face… YOU made me lose my planeshifter!! Every single hardship I have gone through in this plane has been connected to YOU in some way or another!!!” a shadow seemed to pass over Grey’s face, and his eyes shone. “But all that comes to an end now. Who would have thought that Vanhele’s little rebellion would have brought me to this.. this victory?” he smiled. “Now, my old friend, you will die.”
He began waving his hands around, and Darrell could tell that he was gearing up for a powerful spell. ‘NOOOOO!!!!!!!!!’ Darell yelled out mentally, trying ineffectively to pummel Grey with his fists.
It was all a useless gesture, though… Grey didn’t even notice. “Grand Quake.” The Wanderer said as he completed his hand motions, and then started another spell as the very floor of the room began to groan in protest. After but a moment, he had traced a rune in the air, and disappeared through a black portal. Behind him, the room itself was collapsing, from the bottom and the top. Pieces of the ceiling were falling to the floor, which was ripping itself apart as it twisted and milled.
As for the effect this had on the bodies… Darrell was sickened, and had to shut his eyes against it. The rumbling went on and on and on for several long seconds, seconds that felt like hours from Darrell’s point of view, until finally all was silent. He opened his eyes again, and found all to be dark. The lab no longer existed… the ceiling had fallen in and buried it.
‘All of this… my parents’ deaths… all the fault of that thing?!?!’ Darrell thought furiously, cursing as he threw himself upward, upward out of the wreckage, and through the solid rock foundation of the Vanhele Center that lay above.
Soon enough, he was back in the center itself. As could have been expected, everything was a bustle of panicked activity, with security guards, scientists, and political dignitaries running back and forth as they tried to figure out just what had happened.
Darrell ignored them all. He knew exactly where he needed to go to find Grey Terin: Senator Vanhele.
“You… HOW DARE YOU!!!!!” Vanhele screamed at Grey, throwing all caution to the winds. With the panic everyone in the center was in, the senator doubted that anyone would notice him raising his voice anyway.
“No, how dare you, Vanhele. I warned you this would happen if I was not given my device. I warned you.”
“Years of work, all down the drain, and for what?! Because YOU got a little bit impatient?!”
“I think I’ve been most patient over these past few years, Vanhele. Most patient. I simply want what is rightfully mine returned to me.”
“And we had a deal, Terin. A deal that you just broke.”
Grey shook his head. “I make and break deals as I see fit, boy. It is my right.”
“Perhaps so… but you’d better figure out how to work with me if you ever want to leave this dimension again.”
“You speak as though that could take some time, Vanhele. I don’t like that thought at all.”
“And I don’t like the thought that the Mammon Machine and all of those brilliant scientists are no more, but it is a simple reality. Now, I must contrive a new way to gain what I most desire… and that could take years, Grey. Years.”
Grey winced, realizing that, rage as he might, there was really nothing he could do to Vanhele… not if he wanted his planeshifter back. “…Very well, senator. You shall gain your wealth, and your political prestige.”
“It’s not just that that I desire, Grey. You should know that by now.” The senator sighed, and sank back into his leather chair, adjusting his thick glasses as he did. “Dear God, I want power over both of the empires… and it is only through the power of this lavoid that I can have it.”
Grey smirked beneath his mask. “Whatever, Vanhele. I shall aid you in gaining the power of the lavoid… but it shall indeed take some time. A new Mammon Machine, I think, would be for naught. Your probings into him have already begun to wake him up.”
Vanhele sat straight up in his chair. “How long do we have? Days? Hours?”
Grey laughed. “Nothing quite that urgent, senator. I’d give it about 20 years… be prepared for that time, and we can begin a new plan for your power.”
“20 years is a long time, Terin. What if I need you before then?”
Grey looked down at the floor. “Oh, I’ll be around, Vanhele. I’ll be around.” And with that, he simply… faded away, as though he’d never been there in the first place.
Darrell wanted to scream all the more as he felt something begin to happen to him. It started with a… rippling, somehow, and then a complete distortion of everything around him as a black-blue portal opened before him.
It sucked him in in but an instant, and threw him into a world of blue energy… a very familiar world between times.
As he felt himself being pulled back to the present, back to Dargaard’s Crown, and his quest, all he could do was weep bitterly. ‘Father… mother…’
“Is this all you’ve got? It will never be enough!” – Elmina, a.k.a Lady Harken.
To Chapter 12
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