The Idrllian spires shone in the distance, twelve white towers that nearly touched the clouds. The towers were not only Idrllian’s heart, but its brain as well. The circle of towers held the combined knowledge of a galaxy; a million years of research, discovery and invention. All of the knowledge of the Makii were stored within the towers, the tale of their history dating back long before the Age of War. The planet was a knowledge hub; a center of learning for the entire universe.
The planet was utterly defenseless.
Brontes watched the spires burn, bonfires glowing in the murky light of dusk. Similar fires arose throughout the city. Everywhere Brontes looked, Idrllian was aflame.
All that he had ever known was soon to be ash.
He had to obey the stranger, or he would burn with it. Following the odd (but powerful) savior was Brontes’ only hope to leave the planet Idrllian alive.
“We have to make it to the Gate, child,” the stranger said, pulling on Brontes’ little hand. Not only was the stranger’s manner of dress peculiar, having silver bells sewn into his green cape, but he was an odd looking fellow as well. His brown eyes seemed too large for his head, which was completely bald on top but had curly tufts of hair sprouting from the sides. His lips were nearly non-existent, making his mouth look like little more than a horizontal slit in his face. At his waist, his belly bulged outward, but otherwise his body seemed relatively physically fit.
The shape of the man’s midsection kindled memories of Brontes’ mother, how he placed his hand on her own stretched belly and felt the kick of his unborn brother, Feniman. Feniman would have come any day now . . . instead, he will forever remain unborn.
Instinctively, Brontes wiped his eyes with his free hand – though his tears had long since run dry. He then raised his gaze to his savior . . . his final hope. He couldn’t help but note that even this strange and seemingly invincible being seemed worried.
All the while they ran, the man kept repeating the same thing over and over, “This isn’t right . . . this isn’t right . . .”
Miraculously, the stranger managed to keep the many silver bells hanging from his clothes silent as they ran through the streets.
Truthfully, Brontes knew nothing of the man, other than that he had saved his life. When the invasion began, Brontes and his family took shelter. But once the killing started, there was no hiding from the Lifeless, no walls thick or tall enough to keep them safe. The Lifeless found, and slaughtered his family. His father stood against them as best he could, but he was unarmed, and a scholar. The love he had for his family and his desire to protect them were no match for the Lifeless. They tore him apart and then ate the pieces – so it went for the rest of his family.
To Brontes’ horror, they left him for last. He crushed his fists into his eyes to avoid the sight, but the screams of his dying family were unavoidable. When the sound ended, he realized he was the only one left. It was obvious they had other plans for him – perhaps he was to be their dessert. Fortunately, he would never find out, the stranger came and took him away.
The man may have seemed harmless, weak and out-of-shape, but when he faced the Lifeless, he changed – he became a living fire and burned them all to dust. At that moment, it was clear, even to Brontes’ young intellect, that the stranger was more than a man, more than even a Gatekeeper.
Brontes knew he had been born with the vision. His father told him it was so. Years ago they had journeyed to the World Door to await the arrival of some distant relatives. While they waited, Brontes witnessed the blue flames of the Gatekeepers as they guided the World Door. His father explained to him what that meant – what he was, and that one day his powers would grow and lead him to a grand destiny, perhaps even became a Gatekeeper himself.
Often, Brontes went back to watch the Gatekeepers work – to study them. Mighty were their powers, virtually every world was theirs to explore, but the powers of the stranger were far greater. The ease with which he destroyed the Lifeless proved it to be true. But even lacking that display, one look at the man and Brontes knew he was special . . . he was pure. That’s what made his power different from the Gatekeepers’, its purity. The Oneness could control and alter matter, but the stranger’s power was unfiltered, the essence of matter and existence itself.
Brontes believed the stranger was blessed by God.
They were about to round the corner of a blackened shell of a building when suddenly the stranger’s grip tightened and he thrust Brontes inside the skeletal structure.
“Wait . . . keep quiet,” the man said, scouting the streets.
Brontes did his best to obey, but the room was filled with smoke and he was dangerously close to coughing, it was only a matter of time before he couldn’t hold it in any longer.
‘You have a gift, use it, child. I’ve watched you do it before. Just imagine there is a bubble around you, and inside the bubble the air is crisp, clean.’
The man’s voice was somehow sounding in Brontes’ head. The stranger’s body began to glow, and just as he had described it, the stranger was covered in a golden, glowing bubble. Brontes pictured himself within a similar shield.
His breathing came easier, the air seemed fresher. A faint, shimmering haze of blue obstructed his vision no matter where he looked.
He had done it. He was inside a bubble.
‘Good. Now, if you make the bubble strong enough, nothing can harm you. Remember that. If ever we’re separated, remember that.’
The man visibly tensed. His bulging, brown eyes scanned the smoke-filled landscape.
‘Wait here,’ the stranger telepathically commanded.
Before Brontes could argue or question his intentions, the man was gone, almost as if he had simply disappeared.
Brontes tucked himself into a darkened corner and prayed for the man’s quick return. He tried not to let himself be consumed by fear, choosing instead to focus on strengthening his shield and adhering to the stranger’s advice.
If I make the bubble strong enough, nothing can harm me . . .
He put all his efforts into making his blue bubble as strong as possible.
Moments passed. There was no sign of the stranger, the only thing moving down the ruined streets were gusts of black smoke. He was about to brave the streets, in hopes of catching sight of where the stranger may have went, when out of nowhere, the alleyway to his left began blazing with white light. His retinas burning under the sudden illumination, Brontes was forced to cover his eyes. He gave them a moment to recover and adjust then risked squinting toward the light’s source. The first thing he realized was that his shadowed hiding spot was exposed, and that he would have to find cover elsewhere. The second thing he realized was that there was a massive circular hole in a nearby building where, but a moment ago, there had been only a solid steelcrete wall.
His hiding spot returned as the light faded. Nevertheless, he left the spot and ran deep into the building to avoid facing the being that had created such damage.
He didn’t make it very far before something took hold of his hand . . .
“Keep moving, we’re close now,” the stranger said, his body surrounded in an aura of white. He had appeared out of nowhere to once more guide Brontes to safety.
He took him through the main level of the building, which was a maze of cracked pillars and charred walls. Brontes was lost and disorientated in moments, but the stranger continued on, choosing his pathway as though he had been born in the building.
“I see you’ve remembered what I said,” the man remarked, acknowledging the enhanced glow of Brontes’ blue bubble. “Good. Keep your halo as strong as you can possibly make it, and stay behind me . . . Hold my cape if you must, but never leave me. I won’t lie to you, child. The Dark Army guards the Gate, and the only way to leave this world will be to make a pathway through them.”
Brontes looked up to those wide brown eyes and nodded.
“No matter what happens, you have to trust me. It will be okay. A higher power guides our path. It led me here, and it led me to you. What happens next is merely another step on that path.”
He knew nothing of the stranger (other than that he saved his life) but he whole-heartedly trusted the man. Even if he hadn’t rescued him, Brontes felt as if he would have followed the man without question.
“I trust you,” Brontes whispered.
The stranger nodded back at Brontes and smiled . . . then he became fire. Covered in white flames, his body stretched to twice its size. His smile was gone -- his face was an inferno.
He yet held Brontes’ hand, but the flames didn’t burn the child, they merely danced and crackled upon his skin.
“Get ready . . . it’s time we take the next step.”
Brontes couldn’t tell if the stranger’s voice was originating within his mind, from the world outside, or both. Regardless, he obeyed and he prepared himself for the worst.
With his hand still clinging to the stranger’s, Brontes took a step . . .
. . . What they encountered was something no child could prepare for, something no young mind could comprehend or should ever behold. No living being could prepare for what they found on the Altar of Worlds – including the stranger. The vision would haunt Brontes till the end of his days.
Much later, when asked to describe it, he could use only one word, “Chaos”.