At the city gates, a throng of travelers were impatiently waiting for the inspections to be completed so they could enter the city before nightfall. It had been a busy day, with many new faces finding their way to the City of Andor’s Edge.
One of the busiest days this month, thought Gries.
He was a city guardsman who was tasked with inspecting the people wishing to enter the large city. It was a mostly thankless job, but it was one of the only options for a third son of a farmer.
“Hey Bren,” he called out to his colleague, “looks like we’re almost finished for today. We heading to the usual place afterwards?”
“And watch you pathetically hit on Francine again? Haha! I wouldn’t miss it for the world!”
“Ugh, don’t remind me,” groaned the unfortunate guard. “I don’t think she’ll ever talk to me again!”
Bren leaned on his spear after the two gate guards returned to their posts, he was thinking about his own failures at finding a good girl he could settle down with. It was difficult for a guard to woo a decent girl, especially when all the girls were too busy fawning over adventurers.
“I told you, she has a thing for that adventurer – Julias. Every time he’s at the tavern, she starts acting all proper!”
Gries didn’t want to hear it, but he couldn’t deny it. If only I’d been an adventurer, he sighed while gazing towards the clear blue sky.
Wiping the sweat off his brow due to the burning sun he couldn’t help curling his lips in a snarl, “Those damn adventurers, they are all cocky bastards!”
“You’re just mad because you aren’t one of them! I bet you’d jump at the chance.”
Gries wasn’t too happy to hear that, mostly because it was true. He just didn’t have what it took to be an adventurer. It was dangerous exploring the unknown and fighting monsters on a daily basis. He could fight against men well enough, but monsters were another story, not to mention dangerous dungeons and unexplored places, which were essentially deathtraps.
The disillusioned guardsman looked out into the distance. There seemed to be an endless amount of travelers waiting to enter the city, and evening couldn’t come soon enough. The two of them would eventually be relieved from their watch, and then they would be able to enjoy a good drink at the tavern before possibly heading to a brothel.
He continued to idly gaze upon the crowd as he was in no specific rush to carry out his inspection duties before asking his friend, “Do you think there is anything else for us out there?”
Curiously, there was no answer from his fellow guard. He shot a quick peek at him and noticed that he was approaching him in a sluggish manner. Gries turned towards him with a look of concern on his face.
“Bren, you okay?”
His friend continued to approach while mumbling something under his breath. His walk was unsteady and wobbly, almost as if he were drunk. Gries could just barely make out the sounds coming from his mouth as he kept drawing closer
“Nine-nine-eight,” he repeated incessantly.
The confused guard was becoming seriously concerned.
“Bren, what the hell is wrong with you?”
He approached his friend cautiously, not knowing what to expect. The stumbling guard had been fine just moments ago, so Gries couldn’t fathom what had brought on this sudden change in his demeanor. He reached out to the strangely lethargic guard, placing his hands on his shoulders.
“Bren, snap out of it!”
These were the last words he would ever say. Bren thrust his spear upwards, right through Gries’ lower jaw, puncturing his skull and ending his life in an instant. As his blood gushed forth from the wound, Bren continued with a twisted smile.
Both their bodies fell to the floor in unison to the sound of screams.
A dense, swirling mist formed, spiraling out of control and driving more deeply towards its center. It was blindingly cruel in its ferocity as it violently dragged something along in its midst.
It was a strange and powerful soul which was not constrained by the laws which seemed to govern this world. It was meant to be reincarnated, but somehow, it had escaped the confines of whatever system was in place for reincarnating souls.
Well, in truth, it was quite a bit more complicated than that.
‘I hate this part…’
As the soul swirled furiously towards the center of the strange mist-like world, it was once again able to glimpse images of the past.
“Ishmael… I can’t believe you actually accomplished it. Is it truly finished?” The soul could feel itself saying surprisingly out of its control.
Bright laughter filled the well lit and spacious room situated towards the top of a tower that reached endlessly into the skies above. The tower was so tall that it had long ago breached the clouds and begun to grasp the very heavens.
It was right at the cusp, like a knife’s edge with its blade pushing against skin yet not fully penetrating it.
Two men in luxurious skin tight metallic colored suits with handsome and noble demeanors stood side by side as they stared out of a window overlooking the great beyond. Nothing could be seen from the window but the clouds below and the darkness of the heavens above.
One man, Ishmael, especially gave off a royal and magnificent aura as he smiled towards his companion beside him.
“An-Namrud, look yourself. Can you not see this wondrous scene before your very eyes? Can you not feel the power thrumming through the very walls of this tower? This wondrous work which was only made possible through your vision and through the efforts of the entire world!”
The soul which had previously been spiraling towards the center of that foreboding mist had now found itself seeing through the eyes of the man called An-Namrud. In this vision, or perhaps a better way to understand it would be as a memory, it was once again the man that it was so long ago.
The soul glanced briefly down to look at its former self but its vision was focused not on the front, but angled on the back. This was a very distant memory, its first memories before it became all those others and before the tragedy that ruined its life.
‘Is this truly just a memory? It feels so real…’
The one that was once An-Namrud thought for a moment that it had some control over its former body, but it soon became nothing more than a hapless passenger. Its vision hazed over and its perspective changed, it was now peering out of its former body. The soul lacked any sort of control and could only helplessly look on as its vision shifted with the movements of its former body. It was clear that the room the soul was currently in was the control room of the entire tower.
Strange beeping sounds and the thrumming of powerful energies filled the room with a steady cadence. The soul could feel the very energies of the Earth poised to assault the heavens in its mighty rage.
Machines and other gadgets of strange design lit up randomly with no real rhythm or reason to them. A large screen emitted a radiant glow from a wall on the other side of the room. Many images could be seen flickering in small windows on the screen showing the great work that was being done.
There were a diverse range of people from many ethnic and racial groups visible on many of the screens and they surprisingly spoke the same language clearly and perfectly as if they all had the same origin. Smiling faces and congratulatory scenes could be easily made out in many of the screens as well as from the soul’s once co-workers and fellow engineers who were within the control tower itself.
‘Ah, not this moment again… Must I be tortured so thoroughly? Never allowed to forget my shame…’
The soul who was once An-Namrud could only lament its misfortune, but the body it was inhabiting continued to move and speak completely on its own.
“Hmm.. it is still beyond my expectations…”
Ishmael chuckled, “What’s wrong, brother? Are you feeling hesitant now? After all we’ve done? The very answers we have sought are right before us! We shall pierce this villainous sky that oppresses us, and we shall become like gods!”
“The gods are nothing but fairy tales to keep children in line.” Stated An-Namrud methodically without even considering his words.
This was a phrase he had said countless times and had already become quite the habit whenever gods were mentioned.
“That is exactly why we built this tower! To learn the truth of course… and more than that.”
‘Is it though?’
“Is it though?”
‘I remember every line like it was yesterday.’
“Relax, your nerves are tense, but that is to be expected. This is a momentous occasion!”
The excitement could be seen clearly on his partner’s face.
“Let us toast!”
Ishmael lifted his glass, striking it against An-Namrud’s as he laughed cheerfully.
‘Ah, this is the moment.’
Suddenly, Ishmael put on a serious expression and looked at An-Namrud solemnly.
“You should be the one to turn it on.”
The soul could feel its vision turning again as its former body turned to look at Ishmael. The soul couldn’t remember the expression it once had on its face, but it could imagine it must have been one of hesitation.
If the soul had breath, it would have sighed at those words.