Into the Rift

Once more into the Rift . . .
Led by the elf prince, Adros, a group of heroes returns to the Dead Worlds in a last ditch effort to find the living. But instead of survivors, they encounter beings more ancient and evil than even the foulest of Dead Gods.
Meanwhile, the Goddess Alana begins her own quest -- a journey back to the world of her greatest failure, the elven home-world, the land where she left her true love die. There, she must face her greatest fears -- and an enemy more powerful than anything she has ever known.

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13. 13

“Damned ship!” TOphin cursed.

One stubby hand pulled his snarly grey hair while his other hand curled into a fist, pounding against the geometric shapes and symbols glowing upon the walls.  No matter what sequence he hit them, they glowed fiercer, momentarily hummed, then always reverted to their original state, leaving him trapped in the dimly lit room.  As much as TOphin hated to admit it, the symbols were as meaningless now as they were the first moment he laid eyes upon them; he may as well have been deciphering the scribblings of a madman for the amount of sense they made to him. 

And all the while he struggled to make sense of them, sitting with his back to one of the glowing blue walls, Commador nursed his broken nose.

“Any luck?” the boy moaned, wringing out a sopping wet rag of coagulated blood before stuffing it back into his crushed nostrils.

“Luck indeed,” TOphin mumbled under his breath before snarling, “What do you think, boy?  Does it look like I’m fixing to leave this place . . . to go joy-riding through the stars?”

“Well . . . I guess not,” Commador replied after looking the room over, perhaps hoping a secret door had suddenly appeared.

There had to be some pattern – some logic – to the runes, but for the last hour TOphin had wracked his brain struggling to find it and had come up empty-handed.  Some, were impossible three-dimensional shapes; a hodge-podge of lines that connected at random, contradictory points, leaving him clueless as to the nature of their actual form.  Others were symbols made of scrawling, elegant lines juxtaposed to jagged, angry scribbles – none of which linked together in the slightest damn way.

Much to his chagrin, it was becoming clear to TOphin that if there actually was any logic to any of it, the linguistics and mathematics were beyond him.  Not only was the truth of it a heavy blow to his ego, but it was downright improbable.  There should be something there . . . something he could grasp.  After all, his training was in geology – primarily mineral composition – which made him more than a little familiar with strange, multifaceted, geometric shapes.  Nature was literally littered with such formations; the structure of inorganics and their compositions as limitless as the Maker’s imagination.  And as vast as they were, TOphin was fairly certain that during the course of his life he had unearthed them all.

The fact that the strange language should have been right up his alley only made the situation all the more frustrating – by all appearances, it was a form of communication as fundamental as the very precepts of geology.  Instead, he was left feeling like an infant learning to read and in awe at the superior intelligence of the ship’s creators.  He wasn’t sure what impressed him the most, the ancient race’s ability to comprehend such a jumble of markings or their ability to navigate the nearly endless expanse of stars. 

“Bloody, ancient, piece of scrap.”

A thought crossed his mind . . . something he had yet to try.

He pulled the silver coated hammer from the loop on his belt and in a flurry of blue sparks he began pounding away at the symbols.

He couldn’t help himself, anger replaced confusion . . . his respect for the ancient beings faded as he began to wonder if the glowing runes were merely decorative in nature.  Nor did it help matters that he knew his time was running out, and that sooner or later, the metal men would come barreling out of the ceiling to claim them.

“Dammit, Commador.  Stop fiddling with that bloody thing and help me out,” he barked at the boy.  He lowered his hammer, his arms exhausted.  The blue sparks and hum of the glowing symbols died around him.  “Maybe if we work together . . . maybe then we can figure this bloody thing out.”

Not that TOphin actually expected much, but one never knew.  Maybe his real problem was that he was overthinking the whole thing . . . and the secret to the runes was something only the mind of an idiot could comprehend.  Stranger things had happened . . . nor would it be the first time the boy had surprised him.  After all, his fight would have ended back at the hull, if not for the strength and courage of Commador. 

Once more, he reminded himself to take it easy on the boy.  The only way either of them were going to make it out of this mess was with teamwork and an incredible amount of luck.

“I said, off your ass!” he growled when Commador was too slow to rise.

Hopefully, there would be time enough later to pat him on the back.  But for now . . .

“There’s work to be done.”

Deep down he knew the boy didn’t deserve his frustration, unfortunately he was the only one around for TOphin to vent it upon.  Nor was his anger entirely misdirected; with TOphin at his wit’s end with the wall, he actually was in urgent need of the boy’s help.  Besides, the least productive thing the boy could be doing was fiddling with his broken and bloodied nose.  Trying to fix the mutilated appendage was like putting makeup on a pig -- no matter how much lipstick you use, it would never look pretty.

“What do you want me to do?” Commador asked, a confused look on his bloodied face as he regarded the walls. 

Surprisingly, TOphin knew exactly how he felt -- a shocking feeling – and he realized he probably shared that same look of stupidity and utter confusion as he too tried to make sense of the symbols.

“Bloody dead if I know . . .” he begrudgingly admitted.  “I can tell you hitting em with a hammer doesn’t do a damned thing.  But if you figure something out, be sure to let me know.”

The pair walked the room in silence after that; Commador letting blood drip freely from his nose, focusing all his attention on the walls while TOphin continued to wring his hair in consternation.  Inwardly, TOphin pondered – and cursed – the genius of the ancient beings.  Once more, he couldn’t escape the feeling that their technology was far beyond his ability to comprehend. 

It made him realize that something was lost with the advent of the Rift; the sense of exploration, the risk, and the drive necessary to hurl through the endless depths of space trapped in a hulking metal triangle.  How many millennium of technological advancements did it take to get to that point . . . to the ship and its army of metal soldiers?  Sure, the universe was one now – and TOphin could pass through light-years of empty space in a single step – but what of the millenniums of discovery and invention fueled by the Age of Exploration?  Not for the first time in his life, TOphin second guessed the “greatness” of the Oneness, thinking that perhaps it wasn’t such a good thing that all of the ancient sciences were now lost because of it.  The common opinion was that they were better off because of the Makii; the Age of War ended, the universe bound as one . . . on and on went the praises and propaganda of the Mage Lords.  But what good really came of it, their gift to the universe, their great Door? 

They allowed death itself to enter the Rift, and wherever it stepped the universe began to decay.

What then, what of my age? TOphin wondered. 

What would they call it years from now, if not the Age of Death?  Or would it remain nameless . . .

What happens when there is no one left in standing to chronicle the slice of time?  Would time be left to pass as it truly was . . . unperceivable . . . uncaring . . . and unstoppable?

TOphin’s head hurt with the thought of it all; trying to discern the fate of the future was nearly as difficult as deciphering the runes . . . nearly.

And was there really any point to either task?  Regardless of what he did now, the universe would take him sooner or later (probably sooner than later in his case).  Eventually it would take all things . . . a certainty more powerful than any scientific theory. 

For TOphin, life was really a matter of how much one wanted to fight for it.  Sure, TOphin was old, weary and weaker than he would like to admit, but still . . . he wasn’t done fighting . . . not damn close.

“What do you think happened to the others?” Commador asked, interrupting his reverie.  The boy paced the room, simply studying the symbols, hesitant to actually touch them.

TOphin badly wanted to comfort him, to tell him that it would take more than a couple metal men to stop the great Adros.  But he wasn’t about to lie to the boy.  Besides, they had both seen how efficiently and effortlessly the giants had disarmed their companions.  The only positive note was that they were disarmed and not destroyed.  But still, why was it so difficult to convince himself that his companions were spared a fate worse than death?

“I can’t be certain, boy,” he replied.  “But I know one thing . . .”

Commador paused his examination of the wall to gaze down into the bushy brow of the dwarf.

“If they live,” TOphin continued.  “We will find them.  And together, we’ll make these metal bastards pay.”

As if on cue, the moment he finished speaking the room took on a white glow.

“Or . . .” TOphin said, eyeing the shaft above, which was radiating light. 

Commador switched his gaze away from the blue symbols to the tunnel overhead where a distant echo of grinding metal could suddenly be heard.  He raised his heavily chipped blade -- as if it would have any effect on the metal men.

“I suppose we can just make them pay, here and now,” TOphin muttered, slowly fishing the cube from his pocket.  “And hope we find our allies in the afterlife.”

Even with the di-chronium cube, TOphin had no illusions he could win against them in a drawn out confrontation.  Sure, he was able to shut one of them down with his cube but how many could he handle at once? 

Judging by the burning white tunnel, he was about to find out.

The grinding grew louder . . . the white light overpower the blue-glow of the symbols.

“Stand back!” he barked at Commador seeing the wannabe hero raise his blade and move toward the gaping hole in the ceiling.  “Let the di-chronium do its work.  Save your sword till we need it most . . .” he finished, knowing that when that time came they would be good as dead.

But it didn’t matter what he said.  Because, sure enough, as soon as one of the behemoths hurdled out Commador charged it, his chipped blade sweeping before him.  He didn’t even give it time to land as he clenched both hands on his hilt, swinging the sword at the giant’s sleek metal frame with all the strength he could muster.  It was no wonder to TOphin that he never advanced in the ranks of Lock Core; the fool boy couldn’t follow the simplest commands.  TOphin had to admit though, it was a damn powerful swing – powerful enough that it even sent a decent shard of steel flying from his blade, not to mention Commador flying back along with it.  Unfortunately, it did nothing to the metal behemoth, it landed with a boom, vibrating the floor beneath them.  Its eyes glowing fierce and bright, it tracked Commador as he sailed backwards, then dove at him the moment he landed.

Stubborn boy, you should have listened. 

He was about to move in and save the boy with the cube when another one of the things came crashing out . . . then another.

TOphin couldn’t decide which one to strike first (and possibly last), but the decision was taken out of his hands when the first giant reached Commador and prepared to finish him off by stomping his head into the metal floor.

It paused, raising its foot above his head, giving TOphin the perfect opportunity to hit the thing.  But even if his aim was dead on, TOphin knew he wouldn’t be able to catch the fragile stone afterwards.

The boy would die if he didn’t throw it . . . but if the cube broke, they both would.

Damned fool, he cursed as he pitched the cube, not certain if he was cursing the boy or himself.

With a soft clink the cube hit its target . . . freezing the robot, his steel foot hovering inches over Commador’s head.  Unbalanced, the metal behemoth toppled over.  Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the giant fall . . . and Commador on his hands and knees, scrambling to escape its path and also catch the stone, which was falling just beyond his reach. 

“Commandor, no!” TOphin shouted, but as usual, the boy didn’t listen.

The shiny black rock fell into his outstretched palms. 

“Leave it be, boy,” he continued, knowing Commador couldn’t wield it for long before the cube’s toxicity began to wreak havoc on his human biology.  “Drop the bloody thing before the little brains you have turn to mush,”

Unable to see if he finally listened to him, TOphin was forced to focus on the other two giants who rounded on him; white eyes burning, padded metal feet pounding his way. 

And this time, he had nothing to save him but his dented, silver coated hammer. 

He at least hoped the boy had enough sense to get rid of the cube – better still, if Commador realized the best thing to do would be to throw it at one of the damned giants.  But TOphin knew that would be asking for too much.

He had to assume he was on his own now.

“Come at me!” he dared the oncoming giants.  To which they immediately accepted the challenge, pounding towards him.  TOphin was all foolish bluster . . . his legs turned to jelly as the ground shook with their charge.  He continued to taunt them as they came on but they were too damn fast, too powerful.  Before TOphin could even raise the hammer to block the attack, a metal fist landed on the side of his head.  Something cracked; the sound accompanied by an explosion of pain that seared through his mind light a bolt of lightning. 

Blinking away the stars threatening to fill his vision, he wondered if the blow had shattered his thick, dwarven skull.  Flat on his back, he ran his hand through his hair, gingerly brushing the wound.  Judging by the pain, he half expected to feel his brains spilling from his head.  In relief, he felt only blood-slicked hair.  Best case, if he survived this battle, he would have one hell of a headache.  If he survived . . .

One of the giants towered over him.  TOphin watched the being through a darkening tunnel.  At the end, the giant stood, seemingly yards away, covered in a fog of stars.  TOphin tried to stand but his legs refused to obey.  For a moment, he thought he was floating, until he saw the symbols spinning above him and felt the cold steel floor at his back.  The giant’s fist started glowing, miles away; a shining beacon at the end of the star-filled tunnel.  It took all of TOphin’s strength and focus just to remain conscious as the fist covered the vast distance in an instant.  As it plowed through the tunnel, TOphin realized it was much closer than he thought, and that there was nothing he could do to stop it.

But it did stop. 

The giant’s hand turned black, cold, as if the being was frozen in time.

At the sight, TOphin was certain he had suffered brain damage, but then he saw the slim figure clinging to its back.

It’s the damned boy!

Commador dropped from the motionless giant. 

“I’m sorry,” he said, a forlorn look upon his smashed face despite the fact that all of the giants were apparently disabled.

He held out his palms and suddenly TOphin understood his remorse.

Black, star-flecked shards filled his hands. 

So much for our weapon . . . and any chance of stopping these things, TOphin mused.

Above them the chute was glowing once more, whiter than ever before.

Shaking the stars from his eyes, TOphin was about to try again to get to his feet and face the inevitable, when he noticed something . . . something he should have realized long ago . . . the pattern.

So simple . . .

Maybe he was delusional, his mind broken with the blow.  Or maybe the whole time he was looking at them all wrong. 

There is no direction . . .

The whole time he assumed he was seeing them as they were meant to be read – as if they were upright.  But in space there was no up or down, north or south – the very concept of location varied depending on one’s perspective.  When finding coordinates on a universal scale, one had to account for not only the physical space of an object, but its location in time.  It stood to reason that any being capable of traveling the stars would see reality itself as fluid; an ever-shifting wave of mass and particles churning through space and time.  They would be lost without such perception . . . unable to find their destination if the couldn’t comprehend its true nature.

I guess I was right all along . . . he thought, chuckling despite the horrendous sound of grinding metal screeching down the tube.

Yes, in a way he was right, the complex symbols and shapes did lack meaning . . . in a way, the universe itself did.

Maybe it was the concussion, but TOphin was able to put himself in the mindset a being accustomed to travelling space – to see objects in multiple perspectives, and in multiple dimensions.  Originally, he failed to comprehend the symbols because he had been looking at them head-on, but they were entirely different now, now that he was flat on his back. 

They were always different.  There was only constant, one element that joined them all . . . it was TOphin.  He was the perceiver, the key.  He had the answer all along; to see them one way was meaningless, but with a multi-layered, ever-changing perspective they actually began to make sense.

The shapes, once so meaningless, did have a mathematical structure; one not to dissimilar to mineral compositions.  There was an external, visible result, and a complex, internal composition.  And depending on external forces, both are subject to change over time. 

So it was in nature, here they were one in the same. 

Genius . . .

TOphin gave the creators of the ship the credit they were due . . . but in doing so, he also gave himself a generous pat on the back for figuring their system out.

“Commador . . .” he called out.  “Clean your hands . . . and get ready.”

“Get ready for what?”

Good question . . .

He knew what to do . . . but not a clue what would happen. 

With a gentle hum and burst of blue light, TOphin entered a sequence . . .

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