By the time I had come to my senses again, the darkness around me was swiftly closing in. I had been out there for far too long, and the way back would present a significantly increased chance of danger. At this stage in the evening the dead roamed in far greater numbers, looking for materials to bring to their master’s. The rest afforded me enough energy to slowly climb the hill with more care than I had taken on the way down, but the darkness made it significantly more terrifying. Shadows played tricks on my mind, showing floor where there was none, and exaggerating dips in the earth with striking clumps of shade.
I wheezed my way to the top, my hand drifting into the satchel to ensure my prize was accounted for. Had I dropped it then, I knew I would have flung myself after it. As I think back to that feeling now it terrifies me, and yet at that moment it all seemed so acceptable. I walked the path back to this hermitage, slowly at first. I kept my head locked to the left at the moving figures amongst the Dregscape, looking out for any sudden shifts that indicated I had been seen. There were two shambling figures walking towards me from the distance, bumping and stumbling as their attention was locked on the living breathing being in their sights. I quickened my pace, and after a few minutes of brisk walking I hadn’t notice my body enter a panic and begin jogging. Within a short time I was off the cliff and into the forest, two dozen heavy footfalls beating down on the ground behind me.
The dead may be a shadow of their former self, but they do not tire or feel. They can be quite fast when commanded to do so.
I transferred the sack from my hip to both hands and clutched it to my chest as I ran. The constant bumping was driving me insane, and make running in a straight line nigh impossible. It also felt warming to clutch it so close to my heart. It gave me a renewed sense of urgency.
The voice echoed around the trees around me. The footfalls of the dead behind me had gone silent. I braved a gaze over my shoulder and there were no undead in sight. They had stopped somewhere further back. Or something had stopped them. As I turned back to the way I was running a face flashed into my irises. It was not the face of a man, dead or alive, nor the face I saw in the visions in the sphere. This was the face of a beast from hell, a chieftain of torments, and he was in my head begging me to hand over my prize.
Give it, and you will not have to return to the tiny existence you scratch out amongst the walking cattle.
He was enticing me with promises of nothing. I knew better than to trust the words of the devil, but in many cases you have very little choice. Despite the growing power building around the trees I continued running towards Torchlight, a maniacal desire in my head to return and work on this special discovery. Within moments I had noticed it had given up entirely on convincing me to drop my bundle and the hairs on my neck began to rise. I was blind to the trees and the path, still tearing my way towards homes but completely unable to process anything I was seeing. I had so much adrenaline surging through my body that I could feel every rumble and shake bouncing through my joints. My ears could hear the demon approaching from up in the trees and my nose could smell nothing but smoke.
That was why I could not see. The trees had been incinerated along the path, nothing but charred cinders remained on top of the already dead or dying stumps. Smoke clouds filled the air, polluting my already struggling lungs. The demon wasn’t approaching from the trees; it was simply obliterating them in its path as it crumbled them with hellfire at its mere touch. I had never known such destruction to create such little noise. I dared not look back in case it was close enough to snatch me, but ahead amongst the bellows of smoke I could see the dim dancing flames of Torchlight.
If I continued to run forward in a straight line, I’d almost certainly be doomed, so I took the next best suicidal option and dived straight into the dense patch of woods. It was a more indirect route to the hermitage, but it seemed a better idea to prevent long wandering claws from snatching me in the open. I needed a plan, but there was no discernible option of survival available to me. I could not outrun a demon as powerful as this; there was no way to make it to Torchlight in time. I needed help, but I had nobody I could call for.
Instinctively my hand slipped into the satchel and I rubbed my fingers across the smooth perfect surface of the sphere. It thrummed at my touch and I felt its probing mind reaching into me. It understood my fear, but instead of offering comfort, it seemed to simply catalogue it.
“Why aren’t you helping me?!” I screamed at it, desperate for a response.
It all felt so unfair.
I could feel heat on my neck and a steady buffering breeze of fire washing towards my back.
The sphere shot out of my satchel and began to mould itself a pair of wings. The wings became long and flat, pointed at the ends, until they were no longer wings. They were straight and sharp, becoming gleaming points capable of splitting a man in two with atom accuracy. I saw it flash backwards in my vision and heard a bellowing wail as a demon was sliced to a thousand pieces.
I have never heard a beasts flesh be torn apart, but it is a visceral noise I shall remember for the rest of my days.
A gigantic crash signalled the fall of the demon at my rear, but I was too scared to turn around and see for myself. All I wanted was to return home, all I wanted was my beautiful sphere that cared about my survival. We cared for one another, that much was obvious by this point. Without warning or request, I saw the sphere zoom over my head and hover in front of me, forcing my feet to a stop. It floated in mid-air, its blades gone, and resumed its inquisitive hum. I didn’t even think, I just opened the satchel and like a trained hound it floated in with a gentle nature about it.
Now I am here. Now I sit here, day after day, pulling this sphere to pieces at its own request, redesigning its core functions in a way that only my mind knows. It shares with my tiny amounts of information on its construction, pushing me in the right direction on a project I feel like I know nothing about, and yet I see its completion inside my head. I don’t know what it will achieve, and yet I am its remaker. Part of me wonders if I am really in control anymore, but I still manage to go about my day to day tasks. I eat, I sleep (occasionally), and I deal with customers. I shave small amounts of time off of my jobs in order to tinker away at this project, and then find myself toiling away in the evenings.
Today Maris came in; it’s the fifth consecutive time this week that she’s visited. She rarely brings anything to fix, but pays close attention to my own projects that now gather dust on the shelves or hang loosely from a vice. She has pondered across my once shining sphere, now a dismantled mass of beautifully intricate metals and stones and patterns. She says there’s magic in it, but has never stuck her nose too far into it. She seems to know that it’s foreign, a rarity, something to be envious over, and yet she shows me a certain respect. She wished me well in my work and said she’d be interested once whatever it is I’m creating is done.
A few days pass and I find myself making a separate contraption at this objects request. I no longer need to touch it to find instruction, but rather we share some kind of mental link that enables a steady stream of instruction. I have begun to realise it is purposefully leaving out the goals in its new design, but since it saved my life from eternal damnation, I feel I owe it a debt. This separate contraption enables a link between what was once the sphere, and now a vaguely resembles an automaton, and whatever the target is.
I have melted down the outer shell of magical metal and created a smaller sphere with control stones and a lump of its malleable liquid metal in a central chamber. It will be able to create its own probing tools on a whim. With the rest of the pieces I have given it a small body and largely cosmetic head. The remaining “power stones” reside in these two compartments, and drive the lenses I have created after salvaging some old sky scopes a customer left and never returned to collect. Assuming the designs are correct, it could probably inspect the individual hairs on my head. What concerns me most is that is hasn’t moved since the time in the forest. It allows me to tear it down and rebuild it, cut up its components and move them about, store them, arrange them. It doesn’t move an inch. It makes me feel rather uncomfortable cutting up something that seems so alive, and yet it seems unconcerned.
After a few days it seems to be asking less and less of me. Yesterday morning I woke up in the workshop, stood at the table with tools in my hand, halfway through an elaborate complex cabling job to this secondary contraption. I asked it then and there if it was controlling me while I sleep and it stood there patient and silent, those huge lenses staring at me lifelessly.
We are the next step in his evolution.
“You’re what?” Maris asked back at me.
I had lost half a day’s time and I found myself stood in the front of the shop with Maris’ impeccable face wrinkled in confusion. It was an ugly look for her standards.
I apologised and told her I was closing early, I had a lot of work on my mind that I needed to finish before the morning. It was half true.
Now I’m stood here, walking the line between rage and utter panic as I stare at the mouthless face I have created before me. I want to smash it with my fists, but fear it will cut me into a thousand pieces like it did to that demon. Like I did to it. The communication no longer buzzes between us, and all I can do is stare it down in the hopes it will spring to life and explain everything. If it kills me now I will be entirely unsurprised, but then there’s a part of me that’s curious if this is part of some wonderful masterplan. I want it to be. I doubt it, but gods do I want it to be extraordinary.
Then hours later the final instruction comes in the dead of night. For once I wake up in my bed, knowing I have put myself there only hours before. For the first time in a week I am doing what it requests voluntarily, partly because I have given up my free will, but also partly because I hope there is a brilliant light at the end of this horror. I sit in the chair and hook up the cables to my skin, screw the power probe into the small port on the little robots back, and then strap the remaining hefty cables onto my head. The final plate rests on my chest above my heart and I lie there in wait as my skin sweats and my head swims in a sea of questions with no meaning.
Then my body is charged, and something inside of me burns with the heat of a thousand demons’ fire. I feel the shard in my chest explode in some grand shower of power and I’m floating in a place full of stars and unending darkness. I look down and I see Torchlight like a canvas below me, surrounded by four more shards of dragon fire, water, trees taller than the largest necropolis and grand gleaming castles. I go to stare around at these millions of other stars in front of me, but my spirit is tugged back and the fire inside my chest drags me back away.
He’s in front of me again, this time with hope in his eyes.
You are what’s needed.
I feel myself being sucked into an impossibly small tunnel, and then everything is black again.
I cannot feel my limbs, but I can feel a body. The spark is still there inside me but I cannot will it to show me those wonderful places again. The magic is there just a hair’s breadth from my fingertips. I adjust my eyes and they refocus on the impossibly large desk below me and I my eyes are welcomed with the sight of my lifeless body, now mangled amongst the cables that fed from the contraption I had spent so many hours piecing together.
I am neither surprised nor in fear. My former self has become joined with the purpose of this machine, and it eases my worries. All along it wanted my help to make it become better, and wished to pay me the same favour. Its initial purpose was knowledge, but now its creator has a new task for it, and I am now part of that fate. I accept it with open arms, hoping one day I might walk the Blind Eternities once more.
My name was Keeting, but now I have a new meaning to my life, above and beyond Grixis.
I retract one of my arms and test it against the magical metal of my spherical transport.