(Please note, not edited – much – /checked/PR-ed. You may run into a questionable grammar or two. If you spot them, please let me know in the comments. Thanks!!)
The hologram of the woman spoke in English first, before switching to a language Kain didn’t really recognize. It could have been either Japanese or Korean for all he could figure out.
What’s important, though, wasn’t that. No, it was the fact that there was a working hologram standing in right front of him. That was important. Such technologies, even in their most crudest forms, hadn’t yet reached the wide spread adaptation in his previous world. Hell, it’d be more correct to say that such things still belonged to the pages of a Sci-Fi novel. Or Sci-Fi movies, for that matter.
Yet, here it was, greeting Kain like it was a daily occurrence in this long-dead city of mysteries. One had to sympathize with how he was feeling at the moment, facing a futuristic tech in a place that was clearly been abandoned and forgotten for god knows how long. Made no logical sense to him.
Or, could it be, that this city was the result of people coming in from the higher Realms? Like, Seventh and beyond? Besides that explanation, I got nothing.
He frowned deeply at the robotic smile of the hologram girl. Kain was sure that this was an automated greeting system, not a full-fledged A.I., so he didn’t bother greeting it back, but Emma returned a bright smile and waved her hand.
The quality of the voice-over became worse as the recording went on. “Our Mission is to provide a peace of mind for all the brave men and women of humanity who step forth into the unknown world, to provide a safe haven against the storm. A home away from home….”
The automated message kept on droning about the future this and potential that until even Kain became a bit embarrassed hearing it next to a non-human Emma. She didn’t seem to terribly mind it, though.
Before the hologram could finish her script, it flickered unstably, then with a puff, it dissipated. Then a thick layer of weird silence descended on the place.
“So, uh, what was that all about?”
Kain asked cautiously at grinning Emma. She seemed rather chuffed about something.
“That, Little Master Kain, was one of the long-dead souls occupying this very building!! When you walk around, we will occasionally run into her. She gives you great advice time to time!! See, remember when I told you about the interesting murals and books and weapons and stuff I found in the city? Most of those are right here, underground, in this building!! She even helped me to find them and all!! And guess what? There’re lots more other places here that I haven’t even explored yet since it’s so big underground. Isn’t it exciting?! Who knows what’s hiding down there?!”
Wanting to pacify her enthusiasm a bit, Kain hastily stopped her there.
“Alright, alright. I get it. So, this here’s the place of wonders, eh? Well, it does sound mysterious…. Yeah, we should check the place out. But first, Emma, please take me to the… room where you found those weapons. Assuming, that they are still there.”
Emma nodded, but she didn’t seem satisfied at what Kain just said. “Of course, I will take you there. And yes, they are still there. I didn’t touch any of them, you know.”
She then led him into an opening next to the hill (formerly an info kiosk) that was barely big enough to fit her. As for Kain himself, it was not a problem, him being a short kid and all.
It was really dark and humid inside the corridor. If it weren’t for the spell of Firelight, he’d be as blind as a bat.
Emma babbled on by herself, saying that when she stumbled in here, she literally stumbled all over place – having failed to prepare a lit torch for the exploration. She said it was a spontaneous decision that day so naturally, she had forgotten. “But now, I’ve got myself a walking, talking torch so it’s fine!!” She cheerfully declared and slapped his shoulders playfully.
He didn’t feel like joining her celebration yet, though.
The darkened corridor led to what he assumed to be the office space for administrative duties and the like. Almost all of the spaces were blocked off, either via rubble and debris, or with thick and impregnable vegetation that twisted and filled as far as the lights could shine.
The only way remaining was to go forward. And before long, the duo found an elevator shaft, its doors twisted and pried open.
“We go down this well,” said Emma.
Obviously, she had no idea that this was supposed to be a shaft for a big block of metal to go up and down. If she knew, she’d be shocked out of her skull for sure, Kain mused silently to himself.
Peering past the twisted wreckage of the doors, he could see nothing at all except a several metallic wires hanging from the top of the shaft. But he confirmed that there was vegetation growing on the surfaces when he moved the Firelight inside to get a better view. As for the ceiling, he could see the bottom of the elevator itself which was perched rather precariously on some vines.
Emma pointed at the metal wires and said, “We could climb down using that, but doing so hurts your palms a lot. Without proper equipment, it’s not really advisable. So, I was thinking, maybe we could climb down using those, uh, vines and roots?”
Kain agreed with that choice. No way in hell he’d pretend to be a firefighter and slide down on that. For one, there was a considerable distance between where he was and to one of those wires. He could potentially make the leap but he’d rather play it safe. Who knows how long those wires been exposed to the elements for. They could just snap clean off simply by him latching onto it.
The big question mark now was whether he could maintain the Firelight while climbing down the roots and the vines dotting the walls of the elevator shaft. In all honesty, he wasn’t 100% confident. He could do it, theoretically, but since he’d never done it before, he felt reluctant to try his luck now of all times.
“Let’s use this,” Emma said as she rummaged through a small heap on the ground to the side of the mangled elevator doors.
What she found was a bone, strong and somehow still intact. She then proceeded to sprinkle some type of powder on one of its tip. “Now, place the flames over here,” said Emma confidently.
Kain was surprised somewhat when the fire caught on the bone and began to burn quite vigorously.
“Whoa, what did you do, Emma? A bone shouldn’t really catch fire like this,” asked Kain, quite amazed at what was happening before him.
Smiling proudly, she quickly spoke. “Hey, it’s not going to last forever, Little Master Kain. Hurry, chuck it in, and light up the floor below.”
Nodding, Kain threw the bone with the healthy burning flame down the shaft. It traveled quite far before coming to a noisy stop.
Kain could see the bottom this way, and also could see how deep the shaft went. And boy, it was quite deep.
Frowning, Kain muttered to himself. “Maybe, this wasn’t such a good idea after all….”
But there was no time for regrets. Emma was already climbing down the wall. She wasn’t even looking back at him. Her speed was pretty damn shocking to Kain – she was like a gecko with a quartet of sticky feet clinging to a cliff face.
Kain was left speechless by the sight. One blink later, she already covered the distance of a few meters. At this rate, she’d leave him completely behind.
The frown on his face became a grimace instead. Gritting his teeth, Kain began tentatively to step on the nearest foothold, hoping that it’s sturdy enough to support his weight. He had half a mind to ask Emma to stop but knowing her personality, she wouldn’t heed his words anyway so he didn’t bother.
Contrary to his worries, the exposed root felt solid. A warm sensation of relief washed over him, and he let out a sigh, before carefully making his way down.
He was only a fifth of a way down but Emma had already landed on the bottom. In order to ensure that the bone torch continued to flicker with the flames, she sprinkled more of that powder. Then she impatiently looked up at Kain’s slow and comically inept attempt at descending. He was hugging the wall with all his might, carefully feeling out each and every footholds and hand holds.
She had to sprinkle more powder on the torch to keep it going while waiting for Kain to make it safely. She grumbled softly at his tardiness but didn’t say it aloud.
By the time he got both of his feet on the bottom of the shaft, he was totally out of breath. Not because he was physically tired, no, but the toll the descent took on his mental stamina was substantial. Never in his life did he realize he had a fear of heights. He didn’t have one, but at this rate, he might develop one….
At the bottom, there was another pair of mangled elevator doors. And beyond them, a foreboding corridor, dark and uncertain.
What could have damaged the doors so badly? Kain slowly ran his hand over the edges of the mangled metal, wondering to himself. It would have taken a tremendous strength to destroy them to this degree.
Just imagining the culprit made his body shudder. On top of that, the collections of bones upstairs certainly left an impression on him as well. If he was a betting man, he’d say there was a fierce battle here and it resulted in many lives being lost. As to why there was a such a battle….
There was a small change to the scenery as soon as he emerged out of the elevator shaft. There was a lot less vegetation here now than before, and the further he looked, less covered up the area was. In fact, he could clearly make out metallic walls and doorways that would have given off the feelings of being sterile were it not for all the catastrophic damage visible wherever he looked.
There were more remains here too, the fabric draped on the skeletons too weathered to be identifiable. Kain cast another Firelight and sent it slightly farther forward.
And as the light source drifted, the better it became to discern just what the hell this place was like. It looked exactly like a corridor straight out of a horror-themed Sci-Fi film, replete with broken and ripped walls, torn ceiling panels hanging weakly from the exposed steel beams up above with the hidden wiring hanging loose, as well as eerie, deafening silence that covered it all.
If there were electrical sparks and hisses caused by the escaping steam then the mood would be pretty much spot-on. Add in a menacing, bloodthirsty alien monster lurking in the shadows, then the illusion would be perfect.
“Wow. Last time I was here, I didn’t notice this place looking this…. um, disorganized,” quipped Emma, clearly not expecting this level of damage.
“It’s a small wonder how you didn’t get into an accident here,” retorted Kain as he created another Firelight, this one close to where the duo was. “So, which way?”
“Forward, of course!!” Emma pointed ahead and began to walk briskly. Not a care in the world, the way she leisurely skipped forward. That caused an alarm in Kain’s heart as he refused to believe there was no other sentient creature in this place besides the two of them, and more importantly, no guarantee that the said creatures would be friendly.
“Hey, Emma, slow down, will you. You’ve no idea what’s ahead of us,” Kain called out to her.
She chuckled lightly. “It’s fine. There’s nothing here, other than that lady from before. And she’s harmless. Besides, I can’t sense anything else that could threaten us in here.”
“Oh, c’mon, Emma. You can’t possibly sense things in this place. It’s not like we’re in the forest or anything,” Kain shook his head. “Look, it pays to be cautious, right? Let’s just slow down for a second, okay?”
She gave him a curious gaze before asking him. “What’s the matter, Little Master Kain? Can’t you extend your senses and check your surroundings like the Old Master? He said anyone who wields ch’i can do that. What was it called, Yi Hai was it?”
Having never heard of such a thing, Kain quickly retorted. “Sounds like a yell made by a cowboy. No, that guy didn’t explain anything to me. I don’t know what that Yee Haw is supposed to be.”
“No, not Yee Haw, Yi Hai. And what’s a cowboy?”
“Never mind that, I’ll tell you some other time. But for someone who can’t wield ch’i, you sure know a lot, don’t you Emma?”
When Kain asked her in a skeptical voice, she feigned an outrage spoke in her defense. “Hey, I’ll have you know that I’ve been with the Old Master for a very long time. Of course I pick up on things, you see? I’m quick on the uptake. Just like that!!”
To emphasize her point, she snapped her finger and made a haughty face.
Kain chuckled briefly as the tense atmosphere lightened up a little. Still, what she said made him think – when his Shang opened up, it felt like he could see everything around him. And lately, while meditating he couldn’t help but notice the tiniest movements from his surroundings. Not all the time, but it happened enough for him to be aware of it.
Maybe the enhanced version of that is this Yi Hai thing, Kain mused silently to himself. Should I give it a shot? Try to, uh, feel my surroundings? But do I need to meditate in the middle of this place?!
It sounded a bit impractical to him, seeing the messy environment he was in currently. As he was still a rookie when it came to meditation, he needed a calm, relaxed and safe place to meditate. This underground corridor did not meet any of the criteria. Not by a long stretch.
Then it hit him. He wanted to smack himself in the head when he realized his own mistake.
No, wait a second. Can’t I just use my Aeterna vision thingy? Wouldn’t that be an easy and quick solution to my troubles?
He was far too caught up in getting around the Old Man’s no Invocation policy and of training his Body Enhancement spells, and had forgotten about that ability of his. One that he didn’t tell anyone about, not even his parents in this world.
With his mind made up, Kain carefully scanned his surroundings once more with his eyes wide open. To say he was slightly perturbed by what he saw was an understatement of the month.
The dead city up above had its fair share of Aeterna lazily floating about. Inside the fort, it was a riot of dancing colors. Near the World Tree? Like an ocean of oily paints spilling over the canvas called the reality.
Almost not a single drop. Oh, there was a few strands visible here and there, but it might as well be non-existent. The whole place was eerily quiet, eerily dead, for all he could see.
It was the first time he was in an area with so little Aeterna. He didn’t feel so good after understanding this fact.
Crucially, though, he sensed no life forms. No moving things were hidden in the background or lurking in the shadows to jump out and scare the bejesus out of him. None of those. Which was a good news of sorts.
“See? There’s nothing here, Little Master. So, let’s get going already!”
Impatiently, Emma grabbed Kain’s arm and began dragging him down the corridor the moment she saw the boy relax a bit. That was a mistake on his part, obviously. Because, the fact was he wasn’t convinced yet – he was sure of the possibilities of some creatures possessing special skill sets allowing it to hide from the view, his visions included. It was too early to relax, in other words.
But never mind that, Emma was dead set on showing Kain the proof of her solo adventures. She literally dragged him past several rooms that looked somewhat interesting, leaving him with no time to explore them by himself.
Most of the metallic doors in this corridor bore the similar type of damage first seen on the elevator shaft as if a thing with massive strength ripped through them all while trying to find something.
Eventually, the duo came to a stop on a massive door with its corner twisted open, like as if someone tried to pry the lid on a can of sardines by force and only going half way. Emma entered via this opening, pulling Kain along with her.
Inside was a huge open space, but there were signs of chaos in here as well. Everything within was broken, destroyed, strewn messily about, turned over, completely, utterly disorganized.
On the walls, he noticed panels similar to what he would have seen in the cockpit of a spaceship. From a movie, of course. Not like he’s actually been inside a real rocket, after all….
Their state was pretty pitiful as well, all destroyed and damaged beyond repair. Even if they weren’t, Kain couldn’t see them operating after all these years, left unattended to for so long without any maintenance.
Hmm, but that hologram upstairs worked, didn’t it? Maybe there’s something here that might switch on if I press the right buttons…
Keeping this in mind, he swept his gaze around this particular space. The ‘room’ was in a circular in layout, with a round, raised platform in the middle. He saw several doors on the walls, no signs of disturbance on them. Which was a surprise.
The platform looked like it should be holding onto something, but now it was bare. There were remains of some kind of metallic apparatus hanging precariously loose from the ceiling, ready to fall at a slightest of prods.
As he was looking around, in the corner of his eyes, he caught a small spark, a faint buzz of…. electricity.
It was from a lone panel at a distant corner, on a computer terminal that somehow escaped the fate of total destruction.
Thinking that he was seeing things, he observed it for a bit longer, but that was a waste of time, as Emma lightly hopped to this very terminal and began pressing this and that rather nonchalantly.
Alarmed at her lackadaisical attitude, Kain rushed to her position in order to stop her from doing something monumentally stupid. He was one step too late.
Suddenly, there was a bright light blinding him. The whole chamber was bathed in strong illumination and it took him a few moments to adjust. The change was not limited to that as there were various creaks and groans of hidden machinery moving into place.
He was frozen on the spot, panicking and not knowing what to do. His Aeterna sense didn’t help him out here either, as he was picking up almost nothing at all. No discernible changes in an already fleeting amount of Aeterna in the air, meaning everything happening right now, right here was all mechanical in nature.
With a pop, the hologram of the Asian woman came back on, her artificial smile flickering unstably as the whole projected image wobbled. Her disjointed words cut out intermittently.
“…. And now, the collective of the most brilliant minds of humanity have gathered here, to identify and analyze natural resources such as this sample on proud display….”
Her hand gently swept over in economical movement and drew his attention towards the empty platform in the middle.
Now that there was a bright illumination, he could see that the section where the platform was actually in a separate chamber than the one he was in. It was just that, there seemed to be some kind of explosion that occurred, shredding whatever walls there were originally. The platform itself was badly mangled as well, and all that overhanging apparatus were also badly damaged.
Strangely, though, he saw not a single remains of a person anywhere in this chamber. Not even a scrap, which was odd to say the least, seeing that the preceding corridors were choke-a-full of them.
“See? I told you we’ll meet her again,” said Emma, grinning innocently.
Not minding her and what the hologram was saying, Kain moved next to her and looked at the terminal. It looked outwardly okay but most of the lettering on the knobs and buttons had eroded or faded away, making it difficult to tell what each of them was supposed to do.
The wide TV screen in the middle of the terminal had a spider-web like crack and didn’t show any sign of life. Kain thought that if it wasn’t broken maybe he could have found a clue or two. He could only rue his tough luck.
“If I push this one here, this happens!!” Emma pressed down on a slightly glowing button on the uppermost left corner. Then, a door to their far left slid open to its side with a strained groan. “That’s where all the things I found are stored. Let’s go and take a look!!”
Kain could tell that she was having a lot of fun here, judging by the eagerness in her actions. Well, she was an eager person to begin with, true, but the level of her eagerness seemed to reach another layer as she began to pull him along. Helplessly, he shouted at her.
“Hey, wait a second. I wanna explore this place a bit more, so please Emma, calm down a bit, will you? I want to see what’s behind other doors too!!”
She shook her head emphatically. “It’s no use, Little Master. I already tried all that. None of the other doors opened no matter what I tried before. It’s a waste of time, you know. So, come on now, let’s go!!”
Even before he could say a word, she simply picked him up like a stray cat and brought him near the door. At this point, Kain gave up resisting. He could only grumble a bit at this treatment, although not too loudly.
The room they entered was really, a storage. There were strange looking cabinets that stood upright, glass cylinders filled with suspicious liquids, large flat tables with stuff on top.
Most of the glass cylinders were damaged and cracked, with only three of them still intact. As for the cabinets, he could see only a few were locked while the others were all opened and empty. The table tops had a thick layer of dust, and there were some eye-catching items there that drew his attention immediately.
Ignoring the others, he headed to the nearest table and tried to grab the item that caught his attention. It was bigger than him, looked heavier than him, had a long cylindrical shape in the middle and a place to hold it over the shoulder.
In other words, it looked like a futuristic bazooka.
Next to it, the odd shapes and sizes made him shiver with glee. No matter how one cut it, they looked exactly like some sort of futuristic firearms.
He was very, very excited at this discovery. After all, there was no better weapon for him than a gun. And if it’s a futuristic pew-pew gun, then even better. Now, he wouldn’t have to worry about Fiends or whatnots trying to hurt him.
Smiling happily, he reached for the closest item on the dusty table. It was shaped like a pistol. It felt a bit light on his hand. As for the size, it was obviously too big for him. The overall design screamed “Cheesy Sci-Fi” but he could overlook such a minor drawback.
He took one of those stances that cops seemed to take in the old cops ‘n robbers films – legs slightly spread out, knees bent, both hands firmly clasping the gun and pointing forward while the less dominant eye closed shut as he took an aim towards an unoccupied wall. Then he pulled the trigger, expecting some big things to happen.
And…. nothing happened.
Puzzled slightly at this new development, he squeezed the trigger a few times more, but other than some grindy, clicky noises, nothing of note happened.
So he hurriedly looked below the grip where you would slot in a magazine of bullets. A short observation told him this particular model didn’t need such antiquated means of ammo. It had to be a pew-pew gun for sure.
Um, so…. uh, its battery’s gone flat or something?!
Kain dropped this gun back on the table then reached for another one. This one too didn’t fire. So he tried the others. Nothing worked, even the big bazooka.
He felt the immense, crushing weight of disappointment weighing down on him. “Hey, Emma, you said you found weapons. But none of these work!!”
“Huh? What do you mean? What are you holding now? Oh, you silly. That’s not weapons now, is it? Stop playing with toys and come over here,” said Emma while waving her hand at him dismissively. Instead, she was standing before a tall cabinet, its doors half open. “In here, silly.”
Grumbling a bit more, Kain took a look inside the cabinet, and there it was, a silver lance that shimmered softly under the bright overhead light. Emma picked it up and lightly swung it in an arc.
“It’s so light, it’s like it’s not made out of any metal I know!! But it’s sooooo strong and sharp, I can cut through just about anything with it!”
Kain raised an eyebrow and groaned. “Is that it? Anything else, you know, my size?”
“Oh, there are lots!! But, ah, your size…. yeah, that might be little tough.”
Emma scratched her chin slowly, looking all awkward and stuff.
Kain facepalmed. So, this whole trip indeed turned out to be a massive waste of time after all. For the time he threw away in this place he could’ve had trained a bit more and become better at manipulating ch’i and Aeterna. He was feeling regret, and rightfully so.
Sensing the level of disappointment in him, Emma hastily tried to cheer him up. “Wait, wait!! There are lots of other stuff here, you know. Who knows, you might find something your size!! Let’s just take a closer look and see!!”
“Yeah, sure thing….” Kain sighed and shrugged his shoulders. He was like, oh well, what can you do.
They went through other cabinets. There were locked ones, but after some forceful wriggling, the locks broke and let them take a gander at their contents. More spears, bows, swords, some body armor that looked more or less like what a SWAT team member might wear. One cabinet was full of riot shields too. In another, more pew-pew rifles but predictably, none worked.
And none were his size. He’d need at least another ten years before even thinking of putting one of these armors on, or wield the weapons here. The glass cylinders had nothing of importance for him too, as the intact ones had some sort of syringes and clear plastic packs with some sort of liquid inside.
The writings on the sides said “MRE” on the plastic packs while the syringes had “Adrenaline V. 2. 03.” So, not really something he needed right now.
Emma took the bow with her, her face full of happy smiles. As for him, he just wanted to go home. Still, there were other doors here that might make his time spent coming here worth it.
Kain went around all the closed doors one at the time, trying to figure out what each of them led to. There were plaques located above each door, with an access panel on the wall next to the doorway. There was some power going to them, but as far as he could tell, he needed either a key card or, by the look of the flat, crystalline surface on the panel with an outline of a hand, a matching palm print in the security database. That’s how these things usually worked, anyhow.
There were three closed doors here and all of them had the same set-up. The letters on the plaques had faded too much to make out what was written there too.
At this rate, he’d never be able to get inside any of those doors.
Maybe I can pry them open with Invocation? Although, I’m not sure what spells in my arsenal that can do the job here….
Kain frowned, standing in front of the panel, scrutinizing it for a bit longer. After dithering for a while, he carefully placed his left palm on the crystalline surface. It was pretty much out of desperate hope more than anything else.
There was a line of red light that slowly moved up and down on the panel, scanning his palm print, followed by a distant and distinctive buzzing sound of 56k modem which was funny enough thing to hear in a place like this.
Nothing happened for a while until a bright red “ERROR” sign popped up on the panel’s display, as well as a loud clunk coming from behind the wall. Naturally, he stiffened up, imagining that soon, the walls would snap open and reveal a cache of guns, cocked and ready to fire at his face.
That…. didn’t happen, thankfully. What happened instead, was the door slid to the side in an asthmatic fashion, lurching and coughing, figuratively, until it was half way open.
“Oh, wow, Little Master Kain, I’m not sure what you did, but do it again two more times,” quipped Emma as she stood behind him, still hugging that bow of hers.
Ignoring her, Kain stepped inside cautiously. The air here was stale as if there hadn’t been a proper circulation until now. Also, it was remarkably well kept, considering the age of the place.
The problem was, the chamber was bare, on top of being dark as hell. No, that wasn’t quite right – there were moody lighting here, shining on the giant mural on a wall situated to the right of where he came in from. Other than that, though…. this chamber, which was considerably big, as big as the chamber with the round platform, was bare. Maybe it was the light playing tricks, but he couldn’t see anything here.
The first thing to notice from the mural was the depictions of a handsome youth with flowing lock of golden hair and his faceless followers, heading towards a fierce battle. Well, it was closest to where he was, so he had to notice them first. Not like he wanted to, anyways.
The youth was equipped with heroic armors, his cape fluttering in the imaginary wind, looking all gallant and stoic. As for the followers, they looked nothing like the hero.
No, the more apt description would put them in the categories of “Delta Force” soldiers, kitted out in camouflage clothing and carrying rifles of various lengths and sizes. Hell, one of them was even carrying a sniper rifle.
Kain chuckled weakly at the sight, feeling ever so foolish about his whole situation. He wasn’t sure why he felt like that all of a sudden, but now that he had felt it, he could tell it might remain with him for a while.
The mural was painted expertly. Each figure depicted seemed like they might pop out of the wall and start shouting out words right there and then. He glanced at the rest of the mural, taking in the scene of a great war being waged by innumerable creatures on both sides. On the ground, in the air, swords clashing, horses neighing, blood spilling, war planes dropping bombs…. It was a mural of chaos.
There was a mountain in the background, however. Not only it looked out of place in this chaotic battlefield, it didn’t resemble any normal mountain he’d seen, in this world or the previous one. It was perfectly geometrical, shaped like a pyramid, and made wholly out of an amber-colored crystal. And it was huge as well.
On the sky above this mountain, though, there was an odd depiction – the exact same mountain, but reversed top to bottom and seemingly falling on the ground below at a steady pace.
“The Fall of the Crystal….”
Kain and Emma murmured simultaneously after locking eyes on this falling mountain. They glanced at each other, instinctively understanding what that falling mountain was supposed to be, yet unsure of how they could tell.
Even the normally chatty Emma shut her mouth up, as she stared at this massive mural.
At the bottom of the mural, there was another plaque, but this one was well preserved and readable. On it, it said “The War of the Domination, circa His Holy Years 4498.”
Kain narrowed his eyes. Finally, a great clue to help him figure something out about this whole dead city have appeared before him.
Let’s see, if I remember right, this year should be The Ages of Enlightenment, 0473. The Holy Years came to an end when the Empire was formally created – 473 years ago. Uh, in which year did Holy Years end? Oh, come on, I read this before so I should be able to remember this.
….?! Ah, it ended around the year 6000 or so. So…. uh, does that mean this mural is 2000 years old?! No wait, that’s not right, is it? The artist could’ve just drawn what was written in the history. Hell, he could’ve drawn this yesterday, for all I know…
It might have been a clue, but it also left him slightly confused as well. He didn’t feel so cool about that. He really thought this could have been a nice payoff to his small but difficult sojourn to this underground laboratory. Alas, it was not meant to be.
He didn’t feel too disappointed, however, which was a markedly different to what he was feeling prior to entering this chamber. Right now, he felt like he had seen a part of history that was for some reason hidden from the public. Not once had he read anything about The War of The Domination, nor a gigantic mountain made out of amber crystal falling from the sky. This info was withheld from the regular joes, which was an interesting fact in itself.
Since he had no other clues to go on, all he had was a bunch of groundless hypotheses. Still, speculating on things were a fun activity to pass the time.
He wiped the plaque to see if there was other texts or letters but he saw none. Instead, a bolt on the corner came loose and the plaque itself fell off the wall with a loud clang that echoed in the empty chamber.
Emma gave him a reproachful glare. “What are you doing? You want to destroy this precious legacy of the past?”
“An accident, I swear,” said Kain, raising both of his hands defensively.
“Yeah, right. An accident, he says,” retorted Emma, before noticing that behind the plaque, there was a hidden opening there, with bits of exposed wiring. Kain too saw it, and bent down to take a closer look.
It was a hole big enough for his fist if he was so inclined to put it in there. When he peered in, he thought there was something shiny inside, seemingly within his reach if he wanted to take it.
Exchanging glances with Emma, the two of them debated without words on what to do. It was a simple decision for them, though. Kain decided to have a go at grabbing that thing, whatever it was. Maybe it could be a hidden medallion or a treasure worth untold millions. Who knows.
So, he reached in. It was deeper than he initially thought, only his fingertips scratching the surface. He struggled for a bit, before giving a loud hmph and pushed in harder. As a result, his outstretched fingers surrounded it, inching it closer.
Little by little, Kain dragged it until it was finally out in the open. Huffing and puffing, he lifted the item up in the air near the light to examine it properly, hoping that the haul was not a waste of his energy.
It was a gold disc shaped in an octagon, no bigger than his palm which made it quite small, about the size of a Big Gold coin. Its metallic luster hadn’t faded not one bit, reflecting the light brilliantly.
“Score,” Kain chuckled, turning the disc this way and that. Even though there was no use for a trinket like this now, when he got out of here, naturally he’d need money to survive and a treasure like this would certainly help his cause.
Emma shook her head in disappointment this time around. “Oh well, I thought it was something important but turns out, it’s nothing after all.”
Kain ignored her musings and carefully brushed the surface dust off it before biting it gently. He had seen some rich people do this on television, apparently this playful biting thing being a nice, roundabout way to confirm the authenticity of the gold itself. A real gold was supposed to be soft and malleable, meaning he should be able to leave his teeth marks on the surface if he bit down hard enough.
There was no feelings of his teeth sinking in, no “give” whatsoever.
Of course, this meant nothing much. Not all gold jewelry was soft, after all. There were tough ones too. Whatever, he saw it as a gold treasure, so he was more than happy. Although, if he had found a weapon for his size, preferably a firearm, then he’d be even more happier…
“Should we go back now? We’ve spent far too much time in here,” said Emma as she rested her hand on Kain’s shoulder.
He nodded his consent. “Yeah, let’s. I think it’s nearly sunset too. Before it gets too late, we should head back. Other rooms, we can explore them tomorrow, right? It’s not like they are going anywhere, anyway.”
So, the two of them headed towards the exit of this mural chamber, feeling like they have done something important and historic. Kain pocketed the disc in his trousers, securing it so it wouldn’t pop out by mistake.
Emma slipped out of the chamber ahead of him as he was doing the securing bit. After safely tucking it in there, Kain was just about to step out when the sliding door noisily hissed and groaned, before slamming shut, locking him inside.
Dumbfounded, Kain staggered from the shock for a second before running towards the door and trying to pry it open. His efforts were in vain as his puny little fists couldn’t do a thing to the sturdy, metallic door.
Panicking now, Kain was going to fire off an Invocation spell, when he heard Emma shouting from beyond the door. “Little Master Kain!! Are you alright in there?!”
“Yeah, so far. But we gotta open this door!!”
“What did you do before to open the door? Can’t you do the same?”
Kain looked to the side of the doorway and saw the panel just like the one on the other side. However, this one had a couple more illuminated buttons on it, making it slightly more complicated to operate. And of course, predictably, the markings and letters were too faded to make out what’s what.
“There is something here. I’m going to try opening the door, but I don’t know what’s going to happen so stand back a little,” shouted Kain.
After hearing Emma’s confirmation, he studied the panel for a second before placing the flat of his palm on the scanner.
This time, there was a thin stripe of red light, but it only moved once before stuttering to a halt. He impatiently pressed his palm again and the same thing happened.
“Damn it!! Did the power run out? What the hell’s going on here?!”
Kain continued to press his palm on the panel again and again until his skin turned red from all the force he had exerted. Clearly, this method was not working anymore.
Feeling desperate, Kain then proceeded to push one of the buttons present on the panel, hoping that either one was an emergency door release.
The button felt weighty against his fingers. It took a bit of force from him to depress it all the way in. And when it did, he heard a loud clanking noise, and a heavy tremor rocking the chamber’s floor.
Then, there was a cacophony of mechanical noises coming from the deep beneath the floor, making Kain’s face pale with a fear of the unknown.
Emma was shouting from the other side of the door. She too could hear the noises but was powerless to do anything. She even resorted to attacking the door but her strength and equipment were not adequate enough to even leave a scratch on the surface.
Kain felt the vibrations through his back as he stood against the door, choosing to stick closely to it in case something fortunate happens – like, it opening up.
Rather than the door, the various parts of the floor opened up instead. The loud mechanical noises intensified, as things began to rise up from all the openings.
In the middle of the floor, a hole as large as a minivan opened up, and a large rectangular box-like object rose up. Surrounding it were dozen bronze statues of burly men and women.
Their ascending speed slowed as the noises lessened until all objects lurched to a stop with a crunching sound reminiscent of a failing clutch on an old car. The hidden dust was kicked up and swirled in the air, creating a vivid mist under the indirect light.
Kain sucked in a heavy breath. Because, he sensed an oppressive aura oozing from the box surrounded by the twelve statues.
It was jet-black in color. It resembled a sarcophagus, except that it wasn’t made out of stone. He couldn’t even tell what the material was. There were numerous markings and hieroglyphs all over it, lending it a mysterious and ancient air to it.
The bronze statues were of warriors taking various threatening poses, their swords and spears and lances and staves drawn and ready to attack. The odd thing was, the statues had their weapons pointed at the sarcophagus, as if to restrain whatever was sleeping inside. As if, they were ready to strike down the black box the moment it showed a sign of life.
Kain gulped loudly. The sound of his saliva entering his throat was loud enough to echo in the still chamber. He realized that the temperature of the room just dropped a couple of notches, causing goosebumps to break out on his skin.
He hurriedly opened his Aeterna vision to take a look, and got a fright of his life.
Because, for the first time in his life, he saw the color of Aeterna he’d never, ever seen before – a pitch black light, emanating from a sun-shaped sphere hidden within the center of the sarcophagus. It felt like as if it was sucking up all the other Aeterna around it, greedily munching on them and absorbing them, eliminating the very forces of life from the existence. In exchange, it was oozing out this sinister black light instead.
He felt his spine freezing up from fear. This was not from him being scared of the unknown. No, it was a purest, most instinctive form of primal fear. He feared whatever thing was letting off this…. this unholy type of Aeterna out.
Knowing he had messed up badly, he frantically thought of a way to reverse this situation. He realized quickly enough that since there was a button to bring it up, then surely there would be another button to store it below ground. And if one was following logic when building the switches, they should have been right next to each other.
Kain didn’t hesitate in pressing the button next to the one he pressed. This one didn’t budge, refusing to move. Stuck in place with years, decades, centuries and millenniums’ worth of non-maintenance meant it’d need more than simple but frenetic presses from a six-year-old kid.
So he made a fist and slammed down on the offending button, hard. That made things worse.
Rather than the sarcophagus and the statues descending back down, there was strange movement on the lid of the black box, as if it was going through an unlocking sequence. The statues then began to actually move. They actually moved, standing even taller and ready to throw down, their expressions becoming even more fiercer.
A streak of cold sweat ran down his back. Kain was cursing like a sailor inwardly at the moment.
What kind of a sadistic idiot places an “Open Evil Casket” button next to a door release?! Huh? Shouldn’t it be “Go the hell back down” button instead?! This is so wrong, wrong, wrong!! If I ever meet the douchebag who came up with this set-up, I’ll kick his ass real good!!
In the meantime, the Old Man was standing at the front of the Lomax residence in the village of Riverfield. The double-story house looked exactly as Kain had described it.
The Old Man gazed around, feeling rather impressed at the gentle vibe the whole place was giving out. He was here to talk to the boy’s parents as per his request.
Although he wasn’t too sure about this, he knew that deep down, putting the minds of the grieving parents at ease would do a world of good to the boy’s psyche, helping him to steady his mind and focus wholeheartedly on becoming a fine, nay, a great martial artist.
Having said that, he only felt the presence of two adult males inside the house, which was odd, considering the family situation his disciple mentioned in the past. Where were the women folk disappeared to?
He slowly lifted his head and gazed at the skies above the city of Lafayette to the distance. There, he could see the servant of a false god circling in the air, searching and waiting, invisible to all naked eyes except his. His powerfully developed Shang, coupled with highly advanced Yi Hai allowed him to clearly discern the vile creature no problem.
The Old Man thought that as soon as he was done talking to the parents of Kain, he’d go and take care of the servant but, even from here, he could tell that it wouldn’t be an easy battle, especially with his current illness.
He had the full confidence to win, but he knew avoiding further injuries would be difficult. If so, then that threw all his plans into jeopardy.
The Old Man had planned to go on a journey to find his old friend who would help out with the boy’s training. But he’d have to go into a secluded meditation once more to heal his wounds and that would delay the schedule even further. Worse, once defeated, the false god would know something happened here in this Realm, thereby complicating the matters unfavorably for the Old Man.
“Hmm, what to do….”
The Old Man stood on the outskirts of the Lomax residence’s front yard, slowly stroking his beard. He had a complicated expression on his face, his eyes drifting away into a deep, deep thought.
Only if he knew where his friend had gone off to. Then he’d send a ch’i infused soundwave that would send his message to the target and call forth the friend here.
“Hmm. How bothersome….”
The Old Man frowned a little.
He sensed that one of the males began to move inside the house. It seemed this person had sensed the Old Man somehow, even though he was hiding his aura.
The man who appeared in the doorway was not Derrick, but it was a tall, thin man with a swept-back blonde hair pulled tightly behind his head. His cold, piercing gaze fell upon the Old Man, scrutinizing, studying.
The Old Man understood that his man was expertly hiding his murderous aura. A man who had ended quite a few lives, the Old Man mused.
The tall, thin man walked briskly over at where the Old Man was, before stopping a few feet away. “May I help you, sir?” He asked in cold, detached voice.
His face placid, the Old Man inquired. “I came here to see… the owner of the house.”
The Old Man spoke the note-perfect Empire Standard Dialect. He sounded just like a citizen of this sprawling empire. If Kain heard him now, he’d be utterly shocked by the natural intonation of the Old Man’s accents.
The tall, thin man narrowed his cold eyes. “Sir Baron Lomax isn’t home at the moment. But I shall take a message if you are inclined to leave one.”
“Oh? So, when is he expected back?”
“His absence is unscheduled and thus it is not known when he might return. Now, is there anything else, sir?”
The Old Man chuckled. “Hmm. That is unfortunate…. Well, whoever you might be, take this message and give it to… the baron, when he decides to come home.”
The tall, thin man hid his irritation well, but the Old Man could sense that this guy was thumbing a dagger beneath his cloak, ready to strike him at a moment’s notice.
He was bemused at such level of unwarranted bloodthirst. Outwardly, the tall, thin man hid it well, but no one could hide their desire to shed blood from the Old Man’s piercing gaze.
The amusement factor came from the fact that no matter how proficient this guy was with handling a dagger, he’d stand no chance against the Old Man. Hell, a thousand of this tall, thin man attacking at the same time would still be insufficient to even ruffle his sleeves.
Chuckling once more, the Old Man then decided not to waste any more time here and move on. “The message is this; Baron Lomax’s son is safe and sound. He’s being well looked after, so stay your worries. That’s all.”
The complexion of the tall, thin man paled briefly when he heard the Old Man’s words. But he recovered quickly, and without missing a beat, he stepped before the Old Man in a domineering fashion. “Are you here to play a prank of such poor tastes? Are you trying to lose your head, sir?”
The Old Man waved his hand dismissively. “Believe it, don’t believe it, I don’t care. Do what you will. I only came here to deliver the message.”
The tall, thin man then unsheathed the dagger and pointed at the Old Man’s neck. “If what you say is true, then where is he? Tell me now, or forfeit your puny life right here, foreigner.”
The Old Man raised an eyebrow. It was true that he looked nothing like the standard citizens of the Empire, who were all European in appearance, while he had a countenance of an Asian. Even with the perfect dialect, some would always suspect that he did not originate from within the Empire’s borders.
Still, the word foreigner ticked him off slightly. So, the Old Man languidly raised a fingertip and lightly tapped the dagger. It crumbled to dust in an instant.
Alarmed, the tall, thin man quickly withdrew and tried to unsheath his sword but the moment his eyes blinked, the white robe-wearing old man before him had vanished into thin air.
Stunned into silence, the tall, thin man, Sir William Fordham Wincaster, stood there, hastily scanning the surroundings with little success.