Copyright @ J.C. Bell, 2014
All rights reserved
The beginning of the Age of Death –
So close now . . . the young man thought, intricate wisps of blue flame drifting from his fingertips.
He sat at a rectangular desk of black stone. A lone glow-globe hovered over him, casting the room in a stale, yellow light. Upon the desk, a small, fur-covered mammal frantically clawed at a cage made of silver bars. Its red eyes alighted on the man’s oncoming threads of energy, further triggering the animal’s sense of fear to the point it began gnawing on the bars with its large front teeth.
Its efforts would be to no avail – even once the experiment was underway. It would bite and claw with all its might, but nevertheless, the man was confident the silver bars would hold . . . it was perhaps the only element that would do so. He discovered the secret to containing his creations, and it existed in the molecular structure of silver. Even the strength of the Oneness paled in comparison – a lesson the young man had learned the hard way. He failed to realize the effectiveness of his own experimentations, and more than once, the infected creatures threatened to escape their confines. It was but one of the many problems he had to overcome. In order to avoid a full-scale outbreak, it became necessary to eliminate such threats. That became his second problem – their destruction. Technically, once the infection set in they were already dead. The difficult part was convincing their infected cells of this fact. Transforming the Oneness into actual fire proved an adequate solution to that problem. Likewise, silver also functioned well in this regard.
Thankfully, after all was said and done, containment had been sustained. Whether or not the virus was lethal to a humanoid host had yet to be determined – there was much more trial and error to go before he dared to make that assessment. Regardless, He worked under the assumption the virus was anything but safe – as it proved itself to be, one experiment after another. Thus far, only one of the animals lived beyond the ‘impregnation’ stage for longer than a standard day.
Out of curiosity, he had yet to discard that creature, his greatest ‘success’. He kept it close, tucked away in the corner of the room bound in a similar cage of silver – which was in turn encased in an even larger cage of silver -- the young man wasn’t taking any chances with that one. The creature had survived for months, and in theory, could possibly exist for all time. Its cellular death had entirely ceased, while cellular division only occurred during trauma – to replace permanently lost cells. All virus infected cells, though essentially dead, continued to function as dictated by the genetic material of the virus. It was rotting, to be sure, the horrid stench was a clear indication of its continued decay. However, the virus kept it animated, fooling the cells into thinking they were yet living no matter how foul its flesh and organs became. As far as the young man could tell, the being required no sustenance to continue its existence. It had a rather voracious appetite for meat; the rarer the meat, the more voracious. Yet it could live for weeks without eating a single morsel. The young man surmised, that most likely, the brunt of the energy it needed to function was derived mainly from the virus itself – an entity born of pure energy. The act of feeding almost seemed a remnant of an instinct it once possessed, an instinct now warped into a gluttonous replica of what it used to be.
Behind him, the creature curled into a ball in the darkest corner of the cage, constantly wheezing as if every breath was its last. All of its hair was long since shed, revealing white flesh riddled with throbbing black veins. Even the red of its eyes had clouded over, covered with a glossy layer of black. The creature’s skin hugged its bones, stretched tight like a drum, making the creature skeletal in appearance.
Throughout the day it remained motionless, dead by all accounts except for its labored breathing. Yet, should the young man draw near, it would spring into action, howling and thrashing as it threw itself against the silver bars in a frenzy. The man didn’t doubt that given the opportunity, it would feed from him, biting his flesh with as much abandon as it did the bloodied chunks of meat he tossed into the cage.
But it wouldn’t bite the silver bars – not after its first attempt to do so had nearly set its mouth on fire. As long as the double layer of silver remained between him and the beast, he was confident he wouldn’t become its next feast.
Despite its appearance, and demeanor, the young man did consider the creature a success. It was as close to immortality as any Makii had yet to come. Quite possibly the creature would live forever . . . even so, he couldn’t deny that its existence was nothing to be admired. No, not yet. But he was close now, so close . . .
Soon -- perhaps even with his current attempt -- the young man would finally find an immortality worthy of the Antevictus.
Concentrating to his utmost, he forged ahead, hoping to at last achieve such a level of success. The man’s flames met the cage and melted through. Next, they took hold of the creature. As if calmed by their delicate touch, the animal grew still. The tendrils of flame washed over its flesh, then slowly began to sink in. As they did so, the man developed a sense of the animal, both mental and physical. Though it possessed mainly base emotions, considering its limited intellect, it was surprisingly resilient and adaptable to adversity. Its survival instinct was incredibly strong. As for its physical, cellular structure, it was essentially similar to higher forms of warm-blooded creatures, making the animal a perfect subject for experimentation. Another blessing of the breed was their high rate of birth; to reach this stage of success, the young man had “literally” burned through hundreds of them.
He sent his power deeper into the core of the creature, making his threads of energy even thinner – so thin the blue filaments became invisible to the unaided eye. He guided them to the animal’s reproductive organs, then focused them on one single cell – an unfertilized egg in her womb. His goal was to fertilize it, but not with spermatozoa as the Maker intended. Today he was playing the Maker, creating his own diminutive life-form that he would unleash upon the animal’s unused ovum. Depending on how he crafted his virus, the union could have incredible results. His virus was born of the Oneness, and as such, the qualities it bestowed could often be considered powers in their own right; great strength, increased speed, heightened senses, and of course, immortality. To combine all of these beneficial traits into a single specimen, that was the young man’s goal. To do so would make the Makii gods, not just in name, but in truth.
. . . so close . . .
He pressed on. He flames merged into a pattern so intricate it appeared a jumble. But to the young man it was perfect – hopefully so.
He stepped back, wiping the sweat from his brow, then using the dampness to slick back his long black hair.
The creature squirmed, then entered a fit of seizures. Every muscle in its body tensed to the breaking point, and meanwhile it shrieked, a shrill high-pitched cry of utter pain.
In the corner of the room, the ‘successful’ experiment joined its cry, the young man didn’t dare take his eyes from the creature in front of him, but at his back, the sound of flesh and bone smashing against the silver cage was a distraction he could hardly ignore.
As if it wailed away its soul, there was a final cry, then the new experiment was silenced.
Afterwards, thrumming his fingers on the table in nervous anticipation, the man watched and waited. Time passed . . . and the creature remained lifelessly still.
That’s unfortunate, the man thought, halting his rhythm with a final rap of his knuckles. Oh well then . . . try, try again . . .
His Oneness went out once more, this time to burn the creature to ash, but before it reached the animal the creature stirred . . .
It dove at the cage, latching onto the bars with its sharp, long front teeth. Wisps of smoke rose from its mouth as its teeth burned, but still it bore down. Even after its teeth became melted nubs, it continued to chew . . . and stare at the young man with its beady red eyes – which were slowly being covered with a blackish tint.
Blood frothed from its mouth like spittle. To the man’s horror, he noticed the cage bar was bending, flexing outward as the creature continued to push and gnaw on it with bloody gums. The amount of smoke rising from the cage greatly increased, caused not only by the creature’s burning flesh, but from the silver bars as well. Its blood, like acid, was deteriorating the silver.
Now that, is truly unfortunate.
From his feet to the top of his head, the man’s body suddenly ignited in a pyre of crackling blue flames. The flames left him in a torrent, engulfing the infected animal. He tuned his power to actual fire, hoping to incinerate the creature instantaneously. But surprisingly, as the flames washed over the animal, it squirmed, shrieked and burned . . . but it didn’t die. His power encompassed the cage as well, the heat of which melted the silver bars faster than it did the creature’s flesh.
Imorbis, you fool, he inwardly cursed. He had no intention of being the first humanoid test subject of his virus, so he summoned as much Oneness as his body could hold. Never in his life had he held as much. The table began to crumble, the cage became a pool of liquid silver, the glow-globe burst into crystalline shards. Even the walls and floor of reinforced tungsten began to show hairline cracks. Still the animal lived . . . and it jumped at Imorbis.
Every bit of Oneness he could hold, he focused on the animal. He stumbled backward to avoid the creature, tripping over his own feet in his desperation to escape its bloody, wide-open maw. Still pouring energy at the animal, he fell backwards, landing with a thud on the hard floor. The animal flew over him, then with a loud “pop”, it exploded in a burst of bloody pieces – several of which fell on Imorbis to quickly burn their way into his black cloak. Luckily, the majority splattered against the back wall, burning deep holes in the ultra-dense, bi-metal structure.
Imorbis rolled over, untangling himself from his cloak as he did so. He leapt to his feet, leaving his cloak a now smoldering pile of rags on the floor. In the corner of the room, his ‘success’ howled louder than ever before. If he had the strength, he would have instantly sent his Oneness out and destroyed that one as well. He studied the marred wall speckled with chunks of burning flesh, and wondered if maybe it was time to rethink his experiments – or at the least, rethink their method of containment.
Not that he would quit his endeavors, after all, he was so close now . . . Imorbis just worried that perhaps he was getting too close . . .
Even if he wanted to quit, he couldn’t. His project was not only sanctioned by the Antevictus, it was fervently supported. The Ancient Ones had a lot resting on him, him and his companions. It was fair to say their very lives were at stake.
Such was the mission of all Makii, as dictated by the Antevictus. The Antevictus were the most ancient of Makii, those that began, and finished the conquest of the universe. It was they who created the God Door, thus binding all the worlds as one – one Dominion. And throughout their Dominion, they were beheld as gods – perhaps the most powerful beings to ever exist in the universe. Because of them, the Age of War finally came to an end, and through their strength in the Oneness, peace was imposed throughout the entire universe.
The Antevictus were now decrepit shells of useless flesh. Only the Oneness kept them alive, but that’s all it did. Their bodies were no longer theirs to control. Telepathically they dictated their will to their followers, meanwhile they sat on their royal thrones in pools of piss and watery feces. They were dying, these most powerful beings. It was their decree – their last dying command -- that those with the blood of Makii were to strive for immortality – by any means necessary.
Of all the Makii, Imorbis was the closest to a solution.
He couldn’t stop, but he would have to start over, approach the problem in another way. Imorbis unstrapped the silver dagger from his waist and headed toward his ‘success’, which continued to thrash and howl in the corner of the room. As he passed the damaged wall, he noticed a glob of black blood carving a channel as it dripped to the floor.
Perhaps, he thought. I should first understand my error before I start anew.
Instead of killing the remaining creature, he used the knife to scrape the blood from the wall. He found a vial of thick crystal and deposited a drop of the viscous, black blood within. He set it aside on the burnt and cracked table, then began searching the room for something more secure to store it in. He eyed his personal locker, which had walls of synthetic plaz-steel. The locker was manufactured specifically to endure all manner of intrusion – Imorbis just hoped acid was listed among them.
Besides, he thought. One lonely drop, how much harm can come of it?
Worse case, the infection would spread, and encompass the few inhabitants of this world. Here it would remain, contained . . . Imorbis took a second to rethink that outcome. Would it be contained? What if the infection somehow made it through the God Door, into the inhabited worlds? He could barely conceive what sort of catastrophe that would unleash. His supposed ‘cure’ for death would become a plague.
Safety first, Imorbis pondered. Yes, that would be best.
He planned on storing it in the locker, then, when his power returned, he would delve the sample. If the cells remained whole, he could find his virus, and perhaps uncover its properties, good and bad.
He took up the knife again – he was still going to kill his ‘success’. Not because he feared its escape, mainly he just wanted to silence the beast.
But once more, the being’s life was spared, this time because there came a knock on his door.
It was a welcome coincidence that the creature grew silent with the sudden noise.
He pondered cleaning the room before greeting his visitor, but Imorbis recognized the presence, and knew he had nothing to hide.
With a flicker of blue flame, the door to his chamber dissolved, revealing a middle-aged man with a long, triangular beard.
“There was a surge of power . . .” the man declared. “I worried your experiments had finally gotten the best of you, Imorbis.”
“Despite appearances, Mastecus,” Imorbis replied. “My creation is not nearly as disastrous as your imp Galimoto,” he finished, grinning at the man.
He had to admit, the annoying red demon was instrumental in his own work. Mastecus had shared the secret of its creation with Imorbis, and though the familiar was not entirely ‘real’, the ability to simulate life with the Oneness took Imorbis’ experimentation to a whole other level. But unlike Mastecus’ creation, Galimoto, to create life with the Oneness, Imorbis dared not work on such a large scale – nor did he wish to bind his own life-force to his creation till the end of his days, as Mastecus had done. But with a minute, well-crafted virus, he believed even the largest of creatures could be changed. The possibilities were as endless as the genetic code itself. The next step in his experiments had been finding the right code . . . a process that involved endless trial, and constant error – of which, the latest error was yet displayed on his wall in a splatter of burning flesh.
But he was getting close . . .
“Dare I ask, Mastecus, where has your fiend run off to now?” Imorbis questioned. He had no love for the man’s familiar, but now and again the being proved a source of amusement – which typically came at the cost of its staunch master, Mastecus.
“Galimoto has been confined to my quarters by direct command of the Supremis,” Mastecus replied, his cheeks blushing.
Imorbis smiled at the man’s discomfort. Perhaps he offered it too often and too freely, but for reasons unknown to him, many were misled by that smile and thought it equated to kindness on Imorbis’ part. To their error, they failed to detect the wickedness inherent in his soul.
“It appears he wandered into the female barracks,” Mastecus said, hesitant to continue. “The ensuing chaos nearly roused the sleeping Antevictus.”
“There’s only one thing the Ancient Ones would awaken for . . .”
“Yes, immortality. And the old fools believe we will be the ones to find it, here, in this hell that is the universe’s core,” Mastecus fumed.
“If this star-system, or more aptly, fusion of colliding star-systems doesn’t kill us first,” Imorbis replied.
“Speaking of which, before I rushed here to save you, I was trying to talk some sense into Sevron, and at least convince him to leave the open-air, if only for enough time to recoup his shield. But no matter what I said, my words seemed to fall on deaf ears. He has become obsessed with the obelisk, as if his gift of empathy has somehow bonded him to the relic.”
Imorbis was very familiar with his friend’s latest obsession. Since the moment they arrived, Sevron had changed. They were all fascinated with the mystery of the black pillar, and diligently studied it to the best of their abilities. But Sevron was addicted to it. The one man in the entire universe that could read your soul in the first moment he met you, had finally found something he couldn’t readily understand – and it was tearing him apart.
“I will meet with him.”
“You had better hurry. The third sun is on the rise. He has been out there too long as it is, with the little power he has left, he will not make it to see the red sun set.”
Imorbis’ experiment would have to wait, his friend needed him now. He bid Mastecus a half-hearted farewell then used his power to store the vial in his locker. He took a moment to make sure the drop of blood didn’t suddenly disintegrate a hole through the bottom, then Imorbis threw on a spare cloak and headed for the open-air.
The sun beat down upon the land of orange and red sand. Plumes of sand lifted from the desert, spiraling upwards to form miniature tornadoes. In a burst of speed they tore through the dunes, breaking apart the waves of sand in a frenzy of energy. Their power expended, the ribbons of sand broke apart, drifting back to the earth in a cloud.
On the horizon, what once was a field of jagged mountain peaks was now but a towering mound of polished stone. Tucked beneath its shadow – safely sheltered from the searing wind and blistering sun -- was the expedition’s makeshift base; a fortress of interlocking slabs of grey bi-metal walls.
Covered in a dim shell of blue flame, Imorbis left the structure, his destination the stark black pillar rising in the distance, and the lone figure sitting in front of it. Imorbis walked out into the howling wind, and as always, felt humbled as he stood before the giant monolith. The structure rose hundreds of feet skyward and was a perfect geometric rectangle. The surface was jet-black and utterly impenetrable, what dwelt within was yet a mystery, as was the material the object was made of. Three dozen of the best and brightest Makii were sent to study it, but thus far, nothing they did seemed to reveal at hint at the object’s nature or power – except, perhaps, for one man – Sevron. Sevron had an unusual gift. Without using even a trace of telepathy, he could see the truth of one’s heart and soul. If the structure possessed some form of life, or intelligence, Imorbis was willing to bet Sevron would be able to understand its intent.
“So, Sevron, have you uncovered its secret yet?” Imorbis asked, grinning at his friend, who sat at the base of the structure, his sandy brown eyes transfixed on the object. “I’ve placed a sizable wager that it’s a vessel of alien descent, please tell me I haven’t been mistaken.”
Sevron continued to sit in silence. Mastecus wasn’t exaggerating, his friend was deeply engrossed in the monolith – too much so for his own good. His shield was practically non-existent, already the harsh sand was blowing through, peppering his exposed skin with red dots.
“The odds favored interstellar flotsam,” Imorbis continued, drawing nearer. “The wreckage of an ancient starship left-over from the voyages of the Origin Race. Most believe they came here, as did we, to seek the beginning of life. But lacking the God Door, the chaos of the core prove unnavigable.”
“. . . it doesn’t exist,” Sevron suddenly interjected, his voice icy-calm. “That’s the only thing that makes sense . . .” he continued, never taking his eyes from the monolith. “Either that, or we don’t exist . . . and what we’re seeing is a true sliver of reality, something our imagined minds simply cannot grasp.”
So, it was to be like this . . . Imorbis thought, sighing. Very well.
Normally, he would love nothing better than to sit with his friend and philosophize the time away, but judging by the blood-red horizon and their failing shields, neither of them had a great deal of time left.
“We know but one fact, my friend -- it is the foundation of life, of that we are certain,” Imorbis said, trying to coax his friend toward reason.
“No, nothing is certain . . .” Sevron said, lowering his head of dark-brown hair. “That’s the crux of it. That’s where we’re wrong. It’s not what they think it is. It has nothing to do with creating life . . . it spawned chaos, the true reality.”
And the half-full glass is now half-empty.
Clearly there would be no reasoning with his friend.
“You should leave, Sevron. Your shield is dim, and the third sun is soon to rise.”
“I need a moment longer, to test my theory. I’m so close now . . .”
His words were hauntingly familiar . . .
“When the red sun sets, I’ll know if I was right.”
“And if you’re wrong?”
“It would be the first time.”
Sevron managed to tear his gaze from the pillar and turned to Imorbis. As he smirked up at him, Imorbis was surprised at how gaunt he had become. His once, well-muscled friend was all wiry muscles with loose, yet sunken flesh. Imorbis tried to smile back at him but couldn’t summon the lie – Sevron would have known the difference anyway.
“I won’t let you die out here,” Imorbis said. “Not for this thing, not for them.”
The red sun was coming, and with it came a tempest of scouring winds.
Sevron turned away and stood up, letting his robe slip to the sand. His bare chest was immediately blistered by the wind . . .
“I’m sure you won’t,” Sevron replied as the horizon was suddenly filled with fire. “But I have to do this . . . I have to know that my life has meaning . . . or that it does not,” he continued, walking forward to lay his hand on the smooth black surface. “Until I know for sure, everything you, or anyone else does is meaningless . . .”
Sevron no longer had a shield of power to protect him, and the majority of his flesh was bare and exposed to the elements. Wearied from his experiment, Imorbis had a difficult time maintaining his own shield, and he very much doubted anything he could summon would protect him from the coming storm of burning sand. Nevertheless, he stepped forward, calling to his friend. He made it barely three steps before he was blinded by the howling storm.
His shield no longer sufficient protection, he was forced to cover his eyes. He took one final step. Gave one final shout of, “Sevron!” But even he could no longer hear the sound of his own voice. A gust of wind sent him airborne and flung him onto his back. If Sevron was still out there, he would never find him in time. Blinded, and disorientated, Imorbis was doubtful he would make it back himself.
His shield was all but useless, so he focused what little power he had left on a final moment of sight. He filled his eyes with flames of the Oneness and peered into the wind.
He distinguished two shapes; one a lumpy mountain of polished stone, the other a rectangle, towering to the sky . . .
His flesh pealing, Imorbis faced the mountain and crawled his way back to the base camp . . .
The red sun had yet to fully set, but Imorbis rushed out none-the-less. This time he was ablaze in blue flame, and flew over the scorched sands. He sensed his friend, though faintly. The entire time the sun rode through the sky he could sense him, sense his pain. How he yet lived was nothing short of a miracle.
Imorbis followed the sensation and found Sevron curled up at the base of the obelisk, a charred and fleshless husk.
In futility, he poured his Oneness into him, hoping to restore his broken form, but clearly, Sevron was on the verge of death. No amount of Oneness would ever bring him back. There was only one possible cure for that . . .
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a thick crystal vial.
He looked at the vial . . . and he looked at his friend. If anyone could handle the virus, Sevron could. Either way, he was sure to die. Perhaps it was time . . . time to find out what effect the virus had on one of the Makii blood.
With his head cradled in his lap, Imorbis tipped to vial to Sevron’s lips . . .