Unlikely Alliances

The Clan-Record of Kennard Fiochmahr, Tale-Teller and Lore-Keeper of the Fiochmahr Clan
Three Weeks Before Midsummer

It's not what ye are, it's what ye're willin' ta die for, that's the thing. Most Gogajin weren't willin' to die for all that much, but loved a good natured fight like they was bloody married to it. 'Course, this was anythin' but a good natured fight.

It started all at once about three weeks after Grim and the lads had tossed that underhanded mechified over the walls. There weren't no warning, no announcement of intent, no speeches, and no time to do anything but stand there like a bunch o' asses: the blue-armoured Cheldrun appeared in little wisps of smoke and started layin' waste to the clanhall right quick. Afore we even knew what hit us, three lads had blue knives buried in their throats, and one of them Cheldrun refugees had one blooming from her heart like a pretty blue flower. She dropped dead, but the lads, Sages bless 'em, they knew that they were dying, but they weren't dead yet. Each one of them plowed into the crowd of blue-armoured figures and started brawlin' like the best of em even as they bled out.

That were what bought the rest of us enough time to rally and drive the devils back. Things got heated then, and all the clan was roused to arms, and out came old Grim shouting and hollering like a madman about thieves and murderers in his house. Their popping in and out in little wisps of smoke made it a harder brawl than it should have been, but we brought them down, and those what we didn't bring down vanished for good.

When it were over, three of our gogajin lads were dead, a score more wounded, and five of the Cheldrun refugees were dead, too.

That weren't the last attack, either. They came again the next night, and the next, and soon it were clear as a Zipsum on gostberries that they would not stop until every last one of the Cheldrun refugees we'd taken in was dead. Men, women, and children. Some nights we fought them off without any losses at all. Some nights three or four guards were found dead along with a refugee or two. It went on like that for a week afore Old Grim had enough.

That's where we are now, the whole clan and our Cheldrun guests marchin' to Blackfield to air our grievances. That's what Grim called it, 'airin' our grievances.' Grim says that it's not just us, that these blue-armoured folk are raidin' all across Gogajin lands. He says he's not heard of a village or clanhold that's not been attacked at least once. I don't know if that's true or not, but I hear we're not the only clan to be attacked this way, neither - rumour has it the Griolsa clan way out near Ben Hamor took a beatin' something fierce half a year back, and the Dilseacht clan got raided a month back for their store o' Whiterock and lost fifty people in the battle.

Grim says he means to unite the clans. Some doubt him, but he's got that fire in his eyes, and I've seen that before: that there is the look of a hero.

Sages help us all.

Prelude to the End of Season Three

A league under the waves, where no sunlight reaches, the Sea-Dragon people known as Sasarrans flitted from luminescent coral apartments to begin their patrols of the surface. The sacred obligation must never be permitted to lapse, even for a moment, into lackadaisical disinterest. Eternal vigilance was required of their whole people to contain the demons who create in order to consume.

Ceralon, a proud matriarch of her people, was not headed to the surface with the others. She swam with strength and purpose deeper into the coral city, headed for the sacred sanctuary, where all the matriarchs would confer. The departing patrol was a delicate rainbow of fronds, fluttering up toward the sunlight. She watched them as they went, proud of their dedication.

Ahead of her the sanctuary entrance yawned - a cavernous opening in the coral leading through twisting passages into the vast heart of the city. It was too sacred a local for common warriors, outsiders or men to enter, but even matriarchs like Ceralon felt a quickening of the heart when approaching it.

The others would want to have her wisdom concerning the strangers who passed from the East a few days ago. She had spent her whole rest-cycle contemplating the matter. It remained perplexing to her that anyone would desire to go to the Emerald Isle who was not a servant of the demons. However, she would shock the matriarchs today by declaring what she believed to be truth - the strangers were genuine. Perhaps events beyond our horizons are underway, she thought. The idea gave her shivers.

Whatever the reality, she would ask the gathered matriarchs to pray for the success of those strangers. Pray for the end of all demons everywhere. Yes, that would be a good prayer.


They first named it Shadowfang in the logging camps south of Geneva Prime. In a day and age when teleportation is real, communication is fast. So it was no surprise to find that news of this mysterious killer made it to all the rural outposts and logging camps between Epsis Four and Ithica. It became popular among the easily frightened Mechified laborers to blame any unexplained death on the Shadowfang. Most foremen, just shook their heads and tried to dispel unhelpful superstitions. There were all sorts of things in the jungle that could kill a man.

What was more disturbing than all the reports was the fact that Shadowfang was real and on the move. It was notoriously hard to get any reliable sightings of the beast, but members of a secretive information brokerage out of Marina had been paid quite well to keep track of it. Even they didn't learn much, but they tracked a pattern of violent killings, some by Jevumm, some with Cheldrun weapons, that appeared to be moving along the edges of wilderness toward the north. At best guesstimate it was now somewhere in the vicinity of the Wreck of the Bosporus and still moving.

Goshi had no interest, when informed of the matter. Just another sighting of the Enemy, they alleged, and used it as an argument for beefing up security. But someone on the Biomade Oversight Council was quite convinced otherwise. It appears to be some kind of Karian-Cheldrun hybrid, he wrote in the memo. We should bring it in if we can and study it for interesting genetic properties...


"Good Bye, my beloved Moon."

Those had been his words, carried on the wind over countless kilometers. She sang them and re-sang them in her heart and every time it was a song of such sorrow that no one could hear it without weeping. The Grand Chantry, her choir, the prophecies, Karia itself, could dissolve and become nothing for all she cared. Her love, her Mokuzai, was gone and nothing else mattered.

From the balcony of the highest tower in the Grand Chantry she nightly composed songs of rage at the heavens. She waited for the Wandering Star to rise - late as it had been doing every night recently, an omen of doom. She waited and when it came she unleashed everything within her, calling all the power of the winds, all the vastness of the sky to her obedience, begging them to tear the Wandering Star down.

Once Twilight was sent by the Elders to fetch her down since her shrieking was causing such a disturbance that people below were being sent into a panic. Twilight was nearly blown over the edge by her rage and no one had made the mistake of disturbing her mourning from that moment.

The Wandering Star winked at her malevolently from its spot just above the horizon.

"You took my mate from me," she screamed back at it. "But I swear by the Dusk Sages, by Karia, by the primal foundations of music itself that I shall outlive you! I will live to see the day that you never rise again."

Her screams echoed over the forest and the effect was satisfying, but no amount of screaming would ever close the wound in her soul.


Ryuunosuke did not believe he could ever hate anyone more than he hated Lord Daitokuji Ichirou. And Kiyoshi. He hated Kiyoshi and Ichirou. And the stupid First Minds. Fucking First Minds and their fucking artifacts. He hated First Mind artifacts and he especially hated Kiyoshi and Ichirou when they used their First Mind artifacts. Fuck fuck fucking hate. Like really loathe...

There was no way to describe his fight with Ichirou without using the words utter and humiliation - two words that Ryuunosuke also hated (unless they were being applied to someone else). It would have been bad enough to die in that duel, but Ichirou had allowed nothing of the sort. He systematically dismantled Ryuunosuke, broke his Katana in seven pieces, and refused to accept his surrender until he had pissed himself in front of the whole Silver Phoenix clan while begging for mercy.

Ichirou still insisted that he would face justice for all the members of the Silver Phoenix clan he had killed, especially Kiyoshi, but he refused to say precisely when that would take place. Until then Ryuunosuke had been dragged along, shackled, behind the caravan as they headed overland toward the city of Stardown. Ryuunosuke only stopped brooding on his inchoate rage when he first glimpsed the enormous purple energy dome - and then only for a moment.

They reached the city a few nights ago, entering to fanfare and celebrations. Stardown had become the hub of the resistance to Goshi almost overnight with the creation of the dome. A feat supposedly accomplished by a giant talking lizard - which just proved that the world had gone mad. Lord Daitokuji Ichirou immediately became a general in the resistance and began lending his tactical advice. From time to time he would appear in his enormous silvery Mecha with purple veins of stone all over its surface to impress the citizens and drum up support for the resistance.

Ryuunosuke thought the whole thing was absurd. He hoped Goshi would sweep in here and destroy all of these clowns with a sweep of their hand. He hated purple domes, and giant lizards, and the resistance. He hated it all. Most especially himself.


The silhouette of the Geneva Prime skyline receded into the distance at a very slow rate. Every last man, woman and child in this troop was a kill on sight target. So Matthew knew they couldn't draw attention to themselves. Slow and steady, that was the way to go unnoticed. So that was the way they traveled.

Looking back over the ragtag group of 65 or so individuals that were all that remained of the Cheldrun Freedom Coalition, he couldn't help but be very proud. What they were doing was terribly risky, it is true, but since all of their hideouts in the city were ferreted out there really was no place for them to go back to. Hence, they'd agreed to Matthew's proposal that they strike out overland and try to get to Stardown to join the resistance.

Matthew had plenty of worries. He worried that he was an incompetent leader. He worried that he would get all of these men and women killed pointlessly, after he had persuaded many of them to take actions which made an accommodated life impossible. He worried, more simply, that he would get lost on the way to Stardown - geography was never his strong suit. Or that they would arrive too late and Goshi would already have crushed the uprising there.

But he couldn't let his worries distract him now. There were miles to cross. There were mouths to feed. There were Hei-shi to kill. This last part was by far the easiest.


Deep in the slums of Geneva Prime battles continued to rage, but the war had long ago been lost. For Cog, a broken shell of a young Mechified with his first adult-sized implant, the war would never end, which meant that he would just go on losing and losing. His whole life was confined to that moment in the alley next to his collapsed tenement, weeping over the body of his mother. He could never escape it, and so he spent his time trying to take vengeance on the Goshi soldiers who brought the tenement crashing down.

His vengeance was the frustrated pointless vengeance of the impotent. He committed vandalism, or threw garbage at soldiers when their backs were turned. Once in a while he was daring enough to shout curses before running away. On most days this would just be ignored, but apparently he'd picked the wrong soldiers to fling garbage at today. They chased him down into an alley and pinned him against a brick wall. One pulled out a military knife and the other joked about practicing cybernetic surgery.

Cog closed his eyes before the pain started. He gritted his teeth, trying not to scream, but it was futile when the knife dug into his arm. They laughed as his adolescent voice cracked when he shouted.

Then, suddenly, they were dead. Cog opened his eyes to see both men with wide eyes. A 3 meter length of rebar had gone through the ear of one and out the neck of the other. They collapsed and the pain in Cog's arm decreased.

He had heard of a hero lurking in the streets of the city. The Bronze God they called him. Cog looked to the end of the alley and saw a figure retreating around the corner. Could it be him?


Rumors suggested that one could see the whole of Karia from the top floor of the Goshi Tower. It wasn't true, but Katashi Blade had other ways of keeping tabs on things happening far away. It didn't stop him from peering out the panoramic windows up here in appreciation. Who can say what he saw, but whatever it was he could not have missed the landscape indelibly marked with his hand.

Behind him, Sever and Stitch shifted their weight back and forth uneasily. The Executor was prone to these long moments of silence and it was extremely unsettling. Eventually, Sever couldn't keep it in any longer.

"We really don't know where she is, Executor."


"We've checked everywhere. We would have sworn she'd come to us at some point. Maybe she really did die when the Rodan sank."


"Anyway, if she's incompetent or a traitor we'll deal with her in our customary way. Just because she's our sister don't me we love her..."

"much." Stitch added helpfully.

Blade made no motion to respond while the brothers kept on prattling in their own defense. Eventually, he cut them off.

"Aimi is most definitely alive, and if you two knew about it you couldn't hide it from me anyway. If you find her, bring her to me. Otherwise, leave me alone."

They both headed for the exit as fast as they could. On the way out Sever asked over his shoulder, "So we're good then?"

The Executor's look was icy, "You two aren't creative enough to betray me. Get out."


Far higher than Goshi Tower, from a porthole under the wing of Sennin, Julian looked at Karia Vitalus. From this distance it was a huge blue disk, filling most of his vision. Still, it meant that everything he had ever known was incomprehensibly tiny, overall. A disturbing realization.

He tried to express this to Tara, but he wasn't a very eloquent person, and it was difficult to stay on topic when she was quivering and balling like she was right now. Something about nearly everyone dying and space being a horrible dark place and there being too much blood for her to ever erase from her mind.

When she gets in these moods, she's not very uplifting, he thought.

It was true that the experience of the Rusty Nail Rogues in space had been less than glamorous, and more than a little harrowing. Even now, they drifted without power a short distance from the Wandering Star, hundreds of kilometers above the ground, when at any moment a terrifying Oni or thousands of mutated eyeless might pore out of the gaping crater Moses had created. Presumably Kiyoshi would turn the engines on soon and they would go home. At least Julian hoped so.

The planet is such a small place. I never want to see it like this again.


As for Karia herself? The words of the Dusk Sage kept rippling through her thoughts... there is no Peace.

Her fragile little self was wounded to the core by such a pronouncement. She felt the emptiness where her chosen soul should have been. She felt the edges unraveling and knew the horrible truth of the saying. There is no Peace.

She wanted to know the answer. Every blade of grass and pebble of sand quivered in anticipation of the climax of the cosmic drama, but once answered there would be no more mystery. Would the absence of mystery feel like the death of Mokuzai? Like a hole collapsing at the edges and dragging meaning and hope with it into the abyss?

There is no Peace. Karia did not like this answer at all. Not one little bit.

The Troubles

The Troubles. That's what they called it. Or that's what the Fiochmahr clan called it, anyhow, and it seemed a decent enough name for the last few years. Of course, things hadn't been altogether untroubled before that. Not since two hundred years previous, when the Fiochmahr clan had seen its very last Dusk Sage. They'd called him the Ash-Faced One. Cheeky bastard, he was; walked right off out of the clanhold with nary a ceremony of the parting but just a distant sort of look and a walking down the mountain. He'd faded into the dusk, and neither song nor legend had spoken of the passage of him or any other Dusk Sage since.

But tonight wasn't a night for brooding on the past, or feeling sorry for yourself. Tonight was a night for celebration! Tonight, the famous mead of the Fiochmahr clan was open for one and all. Four days previous, the Fiochmahr clan had destroyed the Cheldrun logging expedition sent out from some steel city or another. Pepsid Five, or something like that. Surely that was as good a cause for celebration as any. So old Grim Fiochmahr, Head of the Fiochmahr clan, had declared a celebration, and they'd been partying nonstop ever since. After all, it wasn't every day you put an end to the Cheldrun logging operations in your area, and if the guards had seemed only half hearted at best, well, they just weren't real fighters like the Gogajin were.

Old Grim hadn't always been the head, of course, but the tale he'd told of his escape from the mines of a dark Cheldrun city, and his rescue of a whole group of their women had gone a long way towards boosting his popularity in the clan, even if none other of his companions in the mines had made it out of Geneva Prime with him. Diarmaid, Adar, Rogan, Donald, Baldur, these were the new heroes of the clan. And as for old Grim, well, he had ne always been Old Grim. The mines, and what had happened after, they'd changed him. Aged him before his time, maybe. Or maybe it was that age didn't cling so tightly to his shoulders as he felt it, but he felt it. At least, that was the story everyone told, though it likely found its source in younger minds than his. Two children on the brink of their teenaged exile were particular suspects, but no one could prove their involvement in the starting of the rumour, and the name had caught on regardless. Old Grim it was.

The mead-hall was full of Gogajin, male and female alike, each of them eager to get roaring drunk as quickly as possible. They were seated at a series of long wooden benches that filled most of the room, and already the mead was flowing freely. Boisterous does not begin to describe a room full of partying Gogajin: a few good natured fights broke out, and a few couples decided that their time would be better spent in a dark corner with each other than at the table with the others, and all that was before the boasting competition began. The Fiochmahr clan had a tradition, you see: two Gogajin would tell increasingly wild and unbelievable boasts, and whoever it was that told the wildest, most unbelievable one, well, he or she would have to go out and try to accomplish it. Usually it ended in hangovers and a Gogajin sleeping with someone they wouldn't ordinarily have been inclined to, but a few weeks back, it had brought about the raid on the logging camp, and tonight, well, tonight it was a good bet it was going to...

The partying came to a sudden halt (though the couples in the dark corners didn't bother to stop) when a pair of Gogajin slammed open the doors to the mead-hall, with a group of Cheldrun in tow. They were badly emaciated, half starved, and looked more than halfway dead. About a dozen of them came in - a middle-aged man at their head, wearing the tattered remains of what had probably once been a fine silk kimono - and many more of them were crowded around the entrance.

Silence hung heavily in the air for a long moment before a young Gogajin - only just returned from his adolescent exile - rose to his feet and shouted, "What kind of fucked up shite is this!?"

"You shut your mouth, Hagan!" a middle-aged female Gogajin bellowed back.

A number of other Gogajin joined in then, until finally Grim rose to his feet and banged the table in front of him with an enormous fist. "ALL OF YOU SHUT YOUR MOUTHES!" he bellowed.


"Right. You two," he looked to the two Gogajin leading the Cheldrun. "What kind of fucked up shite is this?"

One of the two Gogajin spoke up. "They showed theirselves at the gate a bare few moments ago, askin' fer food and water, uh, Grim."

Grim looked to the Cheldrun. "I wist they ne be speaken Gogajin?" he asked, his regional accent coming to the fore as he spoke.

The middle-aged male Cheldrun in the tattered kimono stepped forward. "Your pardon, sir, but I do."

Grim looked at the man. "... Well, what do ye want, then? Ye must be either very brave or very stupid to come here. Qwich is it?"

"I am Ishikawa Tetsuro of the Ruby Hawk Clan," the Cheldrun said. "My companions and I are... exiles. Refugees. There is no place for us in Katashi Blade's new regime, and we thought it better to try our luck in the wilderness than to die at the hands of a Goshi Assassin, or a bounty hunter... please, sir, we have nowhere else to go. We are hungry, we are tired, and many of us are sick." He swallowed, and what he said next had the feel of an old tree toppling over: "Will you help us?"

Grim took a long moment to think about that, weighing it out in his mind. Of course, in the end, looking at the Cheldrun all helpless and starving-like, there was only one conclusion he could have reached: "... Aye. Ye clepen for me help, and I hear ye." He rose up to his full, massively muscled height. "All right, listen here! Listen here! These wights be safe with kith and kin tonight. None harm nor hounde them here on pain of a beatin' the likes o which you none never seen!"

The other Gogajin shrugged. One of them thought about shouting, "Ah, fuck you Grim!" but thought better of it at the last moment. The Cheldrun did look pretty desperate, after all.

Grim gestured, and a pair of Gogajin, a wer and wyf (a male and a female, that is), came forward and led the Cheldrun away to the Clanhold's guest quarters so as they could stow their things before they came to join the feast.

The feast went on.


Later, when the shadows had had faded into gloom, the moon had set, and the only sounds were the frantic scrabblings and brayings of donkeysex in the hall, and the peace of the predawn hours hung heavily over the land, there came a stranger to the Fiochmahr clanhold. Stranger than even the Cheldrun refugees. A mechified. He came creeping through the corridors, almost his entire body made of metal save his face and his middle, the sounds in the hall masking the clunk-clunk-clunk of his footsteps. His eyes had been replaced with gleaming red lenses, and they allowed his vision access to the infrared: it was with this that he tracked his prey.

Gently, ever so gently, he pushed open the large wooden door that led into the room where his target slept. A bounty hunter he was, and a good one. He always got his man, or so they said. This man, well, they'd specified dead or alive, and he figured that dead would be easier than dragging him back through the wilderness, so once he was sure that the middle-aged Cheldrun sleeping on the bed in the tattered Kimono was in fact Ishikawa Tetsuro of the Ruby Hawk Clan, Winston reached out with his right hand and placed it almost gently over the sleeping man's heart.

Then he reached over with his left hand and flipped the switch to activate the pneumatic spike. Or would have, if a grip as strong as steel itself hadn't caught his hand mid-flight.

Winston looked up in alarm. The occupants of the beds around Ishikawa Tetsuro's were not asleep at all, but awake and very very angry.

An angry looking Gogajin stepped forward and glared poor Winston in the face. "I given these wights safety here with kith and kin," he cracked his knuckles, "And unfortunate fer you, I meant it."

An hour later, three Gogajin tossed the bruised and battered body of Winston the Mechified over the walls of the clanhold, and down he tumbled into the brush with the long, loud, trailing clatter of metal sliding down two hundred yards of loose rock.

Grim dusted off his hands, wiped the sweat off his brow, and went back to bed, satisfied that that was the end of it.

But the troubles were only just beginning.

There Is No Peace

The man with the oily black hair and fondness for lace had been very persuasive.

Lotus thought of herself as a top-notch security officer and her position in the chain of command for the Omexon branch of Goshi Mining Corporation confirmed such an appraisal, but she also could not deny the fact that she had just defied several important directives by cooperating with that alarmingly persuasive man. His request had been ludicrous, now that she thought about it, but at the time it had seemed as normal as breathing. He'd marched in the front doors of a high security facility without clearances and yet been permitted every step of the way to go further without being harmed. He had strutted (yes strut was the word) directly to her station at the disLocator monitors and he'd asked, in a very polite fashion, to be escorted by a squad of Hei-Shi to coordinates that... well let's face it, the coordinates were ridiculous.

But she hadn't resisted him anymore than the guards posted between the entrance and her desk had done. She nodded, she even (shudder) giggled girlishly, and she did exactly as he requested.

As the squad of Hei-Shi disappeared taking the persuasive man with them in a swirl of smoke, she looked down at her monitor. Yep. They'd gone thousands of kilometers to the West. They were somewhere in the middle of an uncharted ocean. Weird.


Kijuuki was as happy as a kitten in a string factory. This island was full of the Mana-Beings and many of them would do nothing but flee to defend themselves. She could not remember ever being so full of shining glory, before. Of course, she could not remember very much - part of the curse of being a Kyo-Tee-Shee, yesterday is nearly as indecipherable as tomorrow. Nor was she really full. True she had a glut of the beautiful light bursting through her every pore, but she never seemed to tire of the consuming. The consuming, in fact, became more of an obsession with each delicious morsel.

The One Who Unravels Mysteries had been wrong. He had created Kijuuki and her siblings and bound them in mysterious ways only he could unravel to the Kata-bearers, the God's of Ben Hamor, the Scions of Karia, the Cosmic Incarnation of the Answer to the Question of the All. Yes, this last title was sufficiently obnoxious to be an accurate representation of these beings. She and her siblings had been bound to them, believing that they could ride them to a cataract of Mana that would come along the timestream, but her own mount had been destroyed prematurely. It turned out that waiting for the cataract was a waste of time, because these Mana-beings were right here, now - and they were deliciously passive.

Not all of the Mana-beings were passive, however. Sometimes, Kijuuki encountered one of the beings she now referred to in her mental monologue as the "Dark Ones". The Dark Ones were Mana-beings, delectable in appearance, but overwhelmingly powerful. She avoided them assiduously, because they controlled her as surely as gravity determines the orbit of a planet, if she got too close. It was good, she reflected, that most of the Mana-beings did not resist, for they would be hard to eat if they all became Dark Ones.

She thought this while her beak was buried half way in the chest of a Mana-being sucking out delicious rainbow glory like a milkshake through a straw. The Mana-being raised its head, looking her in the eyes, and its expression made her hesitate.

"Kijuuki?" it said. "You are free?"

She refrained from pointing out the obviousness of this remark.

"Then Mokuzai is dead and all of Karia must mourn. The Answer moves closer to revelation. The Question is asked. Mokuzai is dead. There is no peace."

As he said this last thing, his mask caved in and she sucked up every delirious drop of Mana, until he was nothing at all.

She lay still for a moment while the All spun around her. She was intoxicated. She grinned idiotically. She heard someone coming, but she didn't care enough to check who it was.


Nero arrived on the Emerald Isle in a whirl of smoke, near the apex. Immediately behind him, a massive column of White Rock in the shape of a flame towered up to the sky. A magnificent omen that he was once again on the right path.

Oh, Spark. You doddering fool. Your mind was a cracked and rotten egg by the time I got to it, but it still contained more information than even you realized.

The Hei-Shi accompanying him looked around blankly for a moment, but Nero reasserted his control over them as easily as clenching his fist. They were soon forging ahead in every direction, through the jungle, teleporting to cover more ground, and reporting back at regular intervals. He would know the layout of the island in a few minutes. Some of his Hei-Shi did not report back, which let Nero know that the island was not a meek paradise, but it had a sting.

Then, one of his cobalt blue minions reappeared with a shocked expression on his face... His words were inarticulate, but his mental images were crystalline. He had seen something beautiful being consumed. The Hei-Shi had no way to know what it was, but he had instinctually recoiled at the sight.

"Take me," Nero commanded.

Nero arrived in time to see an enormous purple crane drowsily pecking at the shriveled remains of a... Inase Spark had called them Initiators: animate, non-living tools of the universe. A sudden cold rage came over him. He fell upon the crane in a flurry of balletic violence. Hovering knives sprung out of his coat and pinned the crane through the wings to the ground. His own fists and knees followed a split second after. As he struck he cursed it...

"You...vile...parasite! You have transgressed! This is a God you have destroyed..."

Kijuuki was sure she was hallucinating. Too much Mana consumed too quickly. This man was one of the Children of Steel. He did not belong on this island... except his eyes were so familiar. Those eyes compelled her to speak.

"Not Gods... Mana-beings... this one said," she wasn't precisely sure why she felt the need to repeat it, "this one said that there is no peace."

Nero's eyes narrowed, occluding the white, turning them to pools of blood. He gripped the bird's head pulling it intimately close to his mouth.

"No," he whispered, "not for you. For you there will never be peace again."

With that, he tore the crane apart, piece by piece, and ate it. It felt magnificent.

The Trial of Jin-Kalys

Jin is getting better at speaking to Cheldrun. It is an intriguing endeavor, and his accent is improving steadily. For example - a rise in volume is interpreted as passion. This adaptation to the unfortunate lack of dewlaps is understandable in retrospect. There is also nuance - a rise in pitch and volume is distinct from a rise in just one or the other. Lowering pitch can be accompanied even with a reduction in volume to lend psychological force to the words. When threatening, for example, or even, oddly, when seeking a mate to fertilize your eggs. No, not eggs. Bare embryos.

Jin has the opportunity to put his newfound knowledge to use. The Stardown Council, such as it is, has convened an impromptu trial for the purpose of dealing with Jin's humble self. The issue of certain injuries (and fatalities, he thinks, glancing at Varissa, restrained nearby) sustained by security officers at Stardown Technology and Research, as well as various instances of property damage, including the manipulation of a sacred First Mind artifact, need to be resolved legally.

Briefly stated: there are a large number of angry, confused Cheldrun who aren't sure whether to execute him or reward him. Drawn-out proceedings have not served to clarify the matter. (Oddly, Sousauryoku has remained silent throughout, watching Jin thoughtfully.) As the trial has dragged on, Jin's breathing techniques have enabled him to control the bubbling impatience swelling inside of him at the sight of so much addled and imprecise cogitation.

Jin has his thoughts on the matter of his execution, of course, and they are now expressed in a well-carrying, lowered voice, in order to impart intensity of feeling without the implication of desperation.

"Ladies and gentlemen. August personages of the Stardown Council. There are a plethora of reasons not to execute myself and my companions at this time. At your invitation, I will now endeavor to humbly present some of them before you, at which point you will of course deliberate and render your judgment in this matter.

"A large portion of our story has already been rendered to you, piecemeal, I believe you would say, so I will not belabor those points. What seems to be germane is my intent in coming here, and the extent to which my actions were commensurate with achieving that intent within the confines of the law.

"I am not versed in Cheldrun law, but I will offer the statement that I did not in fact kill or permanently injure any Cheldrun, and any of my companions'...indiscretions...can perhaps be attributed to the matter of expedience. That is to say, as you can see, it takes a long time to explain what it was we were attempting.

"In coming here, I was guided by a mathematical and philosophical model which is, among other things, a polyvalent heuristic discernment device." Nothing. "Hem. That is, the model enables me to take into account certain discrete data and to analyze and refine it for the purpose of perceiving interconnections and predicting future ones." Some blinking and open mouths. Am I speaking to fish!? "Rather...it enables me to...mathematically predict the future."

Now they understand, but they are quite unconvinced. The bailiff, who is monitoring Jin's allotted time, shouts for silence until he's finished. About half of the gathered mob is no longer really paying attention. Jin smooths a dewlap and remembers to count his breath.

"If you are seeking verification, you could of course turn your attention to the vast purple energy field which is currently protecting you from Hei-Shi attack. I was able to determine how to accomplish that feat, from a considerable distance in time and space, using this model. I was able to locate an underground research facility, and to utilize a seemingly unconnected resource, that is, the last Vorax egg on Karia, to charge the device in such a way as to accomplish my task." Sainted lizard sages! This is a fine feeling. No piercing for this, because these are hardly worthy adversaries, but they are listening now. The facial expressions might be deemed...grudging, but still.

"Feel free, if I may say so, to explain all of that however you like. It was not even my primary objective in coming here. I believe that you are now aware of the threat that is approaching. Has, in fact, already arrived. You call it the Enemy. I would call it a Probable Extinction Nexus. Regardless..." the bailiff is gesturing to Jin - his allotted time is running out in which to make his legal defense, though he has abandoned thoughts of legal defense at this point. They will hopefully perceive that legal considerations are indeed ancilliary to what is truly at stake.

"Regardless of our differences in nomenclature, we share an existential threat that will either exterminate everything...or it won't. That threat is connected to the Wandering Star. It is, of course, not a star at all. Whatever it is - and I am quite determined to discover this - whatever it is, the Probable Extinction Nexus is connected to it inextricably.

"And so, I propose...no, I intend - to tear it out of the sky, to bring it down in a holocaust of friction as it plummets through the upper layers of the air, to finally be rent apart and incinerated when it impacts the ground. It needs to impact the ground so that it does not cause a tsunami which will threaten coastal settlements. It will doubtless expel millions of cubic meters, in your measurement system - which is quite an elegant base-ten system by the way once one learns to utilize it - of particulate...but the Wandering Star will be gone. I have the entirety of my calculations in your notation if anyone is interested..." Jin eagerly proffers a stack of mottled, slightly burnt paper with tiny, precise handwritten numbers and symbols and diagrams covering both sides of each page, the painstaking work (especially since much of it was actually done while camping in the jungle with a Gogajin and a Jevumm) the result of months of meticulous effort.

Slowly, Sousauryoku's hand goes up, and Jin allows himself a smile. Sousauryoku merely stares enigmatically. Everyone else in the room is staring at Jin, but they express no interest in the fruits of his cognitive labors.

No one else in the room matters.

"I know how I can accomplish this. I created the field to prevent the Primary Dissolutionary Element - in this iteration, Goshi Corporation - from interfering. At this juncture, it is necessary that we...that we tip the balance in favor of not becoming extinct.

"I see my time is up. Thank you."

Sousauryoku stands up from the plaintiff's seat before anyone can rally any kind of response to that kind of barrage.

"August members of the Council, I hereby drop all civil charges, on the condition that this Anakarix and his two companions be remitted to my care for the duration of their stay in Stardown." He walks forward - the bailiff, somewhat flabbergasted, does nothing to intervene - and gently takes the stack of paper from Jin's clawed hand.

"If this is garbage, I'll know soon enough, and you will disappear." He has lowered his voice, and the intensity is no doubt intended to be interpreted as threat and confidence.

Slowly, Jin's dewlaps extend, displaying an arresting motley of crimson, violet and bright solar orange, immediately making him appear larger and more threatening in a cold, reptilian sense. His piercings, the marks of honor and of the victory of ideas, clink together musically. "If the work of the sainted and eternal lizard sage, Asterakalys, the Helio-Synthesis model, as I have applied it through nine-branch formal logic, is proven to be garbage, then you can do with me what you will."

Kiyoshi and Kijuuki

With a grip like a vice Kiyoshi pulled the ephemeral purple crane by the neck until the two of them hung eye to eye, floating in zero gravity. Blind with rage he leveled an ultimatum at the bird and proceeded to attempt the binding...

A Kyo-Tee-Shee can be bound to a soul if certain conditions are met. The soul must be an appropriately large vessel. Most people are unequipped for the task. The soul must be familiar with the metaphysics of the transfer of mana. Those who remain deaf and dumb to the effects of mana are like shallow puddles in which nothing can be immersed, least of all a Kyo-Tee-Shee. And of course, the Kyo-Tee-Shee in question must be intoxicated on a recent consumption of mana, but not just any mana. Like rivers, some streams of mana are purer than others.

When Kijuuki consumed Suraisu-Oni's mana she was indeed drunk for a few moments, but it was like being drunk on Schlitz Malt Liquor. The searing headache which rushed upon her woke her from her stupor in time to realize what was happening and to know that she was in no danger. You see, Kiyoshi already had one Kyo-Tee-Shee bound to his soul and no soul, no matter how great, can accommodate more than that.

So he thrust himself upon her intending that they should be united, intending to entrap her like he had trapped her brother... but she smiled.

In a split instant a look passed between them and in that look there was a great deal of information. Kiyoshi saw that what he was doing was impossible. He saw, also, that he had gotten himself into great danger - for he held a free Kyo-Tee-Shee about the neck. One with a large quantity of mana, and no god-question-answer-manifestation left to serve. Kijuuki had become a powerful and arbitrary force of nature, bound by no laws - especially not the law of death.

I cannot be destroyed. The look said. I cannot be controlled. I am free at last to consume mana to my heart's content and you and your friends will pay for imprisoning me.

Had this all taken longer than a flash of lightning to occur, Kiyoshi would have done a hundred different things to stop Kijuuki, but it was all over in an instant. Kijuuki blazed with purple light, searing his hand and blinding his eyes. She evaporated amidst that light sending Kiyoshi one last image before his brain shut down from overload dragging him into a coma.

Kiyoshi drifted into a deep sleep with that image replaying over and over in his mind. It was a picture of the place she was going next. Going to gorge herself on mana. The Emerald Isle.

Director of Distribution and Security

Anyone else would have been complaining that they got more than they bargained for, but not Rain. In the space of two years she had ascended from a 2nd tier efficiency expert to Director of Distribution, assumed the role of Acting Director of Security when Hurricane had her accident, and then seen her employer become a world dominating power. Rain now sat in the driver's seat of a continent-spanning operation of such intricacy that it boggled the mind - and deep down, she was loving it.

It is true, working for the Executor has its drawbacks. He is a demanding man, and he never answers questions, but Rain is not really a curious girl. She is however, extraordinarily good at keeping hundreds of different factors in mind simultaneously and calculating the consequences. Though, Goshi's coup had not been bloodless, it was a far smoother affair than it would have been had anyone else been at the helm. With Blade's informants so well placed she had up to the minute information about the whereabouts and activities of every significant political leader, military commander and Mecha pilot on Karia - a state of affairs that made a rash of assassinations exceedingly easy.

Since then, her sole objective had been quelling dissent and keeping everyone outside the top three floors of the Goshi Tower completely confused. Hei-Shi regularly teleported into and out of public locations. Sometimes they were there for a purpose, sometimes they were there just to make observers wonder. In every city dissenters had to be regularly stirred up and eliminated in such a way that word got out, but no one saw or knew enough to tell the tale straight. The goal was to ensure that no one could be certain what Goshi's motives were. The daily ordinances delivered by public monitors were part of this as well. Every four to six days Rain made sure to put in ordinances that contradicted, in subtle ways, ordinances that had come before. A befuddled and fearful populace is an inactive one.

However, she knew better than to think these tricks would work perfectly forever. No one had been less surprised than her to learn that Stardown had found a way to mount an effective resistance - exclude the disLocators. Precisely how they'd done it remained a mystery to her, but she saw such attempts on the horizon and thus she'd already begun conscripting soldiers for a more traditional terrestrial army before it happened. It would be only a few days before her first regiments were ready to begin the march overland, and however well prepared Stardown might be by then, they could never hope to compete with the unlimited wealth of Goshi Corp.

In fact, she relished the upcoming battle. So long as she kept everyone else out of balance, Stardown was becoming a gravity well for resisters throughout Cheldrun society. Already, she'd been informed that the Silver Phoenix Clan, led by their insufferable patriarch Daitokuji Ichirou and his Mecha, had joined forces with the citizens of Stardown. Prominent members of the UMA were supposed to have made it through the energy dome which protected the region as well. If she waited just a little while longer, every person who was a threat to Goshi would be accumulated in one place. Most likely including Kiyoshi, Moses and friends, she thought, permitting herself a little smile. In one fell swoop she could end the war and secure Goshi dominance for a long time to come.

The key to the whole situation would be waiting just long enough...

The One Who Hopes

When I meet his gaze, I know.

The One Who Bridges the Gap. His eyes are my eyes. I can see the... familial resemblance. I see it in a way that it wasn't present even in Aimi, or Sever, or Stitch, or Malicious. I see in his eyes what I see in my own, and in Nero's, and I know.

I know what I have to do.

"Who are you?" he asks, echoing back my own question. The question. One of the two questions that are truly important.

"My name is Rei," I reply.

He cocks his head to the side in a motion that is less Cheldrun than it is birdlike. "Rei? That doesn't make any sense."

"People keep saying that," I murmur. I think for a moment. "I'm... Mikomi?" I offer. It feels strange to use that name, but it feels close to the truth. Closer than 'Rei,' anyways. Zero. ... I no longer want to be the Empty Void, but I doubt I will ever really be able to change my nature.

"Your real name," he says.

Moses and Una and High Dive are watching now, and Moses's worried thoughts are like a distant buzzing in the back of my awareness. Amaterasu hungers. I don't want to be the empty void. Emptiness. Hallow. Cold. Dark. The question. Life? The inevitable heat death of the universe. Maximum entropy. An eternity of nothingness. There must be something more than that. Against all evidence to the contrary, that can't be all there is. I consider my answer for a long moment, and when I speak, I know before I even open my mouth that I am about to say something true on a level I have never uttered before: "I am The One Who Hopes."

The One Who Bridges the Gap nods. "Ah yes. That makes sense. Don't worry, The One Who Hopes. It will be over soon. But how did you get out here?"

"I came from the planet," I say. His eyes are hypnotic. So very like my own. The sense of kinship is almost painful in its intensity.

"Sent out in advance?" it asks. "The others will want to meet you."

I move forward and take his hand, feeling now more sure of the rightness of this course of action than I have ever before in my life. All the justifications I had been making for it seem to fade into the background: that I must learn about my enemy if we are to defeat it, that I am gathering information, that it would be irresponsible to let any more of my friends die because of our ignorance. All fades behind a great singular fact: this is what I was born for. This is why my father created me.

The One Who Bridges the Gap looks towards my companions. "Malice must be resolved," he says, and with a gesture of his hand, Garandu-Oni and Suraisu-Oni step through the wall.

The distant buzz of Moses' thoughts crescendos, and I am distantly aware of making telepathic contact with his mind. Then High Dive cries out, "Rei, what are you doing!?"

I meet her gaze and smile. "It's my purpose," I say. And then, hand in hand with The One Who Bridges the Gap, I walk through the bulkhead, and then through another, and another, and another. The sounds of combat are quickly muted, and then fade altogether.

We emerge into a vast open chamber, and my eyes are immediately drawn to the center, where floating in midair, strange metallic rings circle the largest quantity of White-Rock I have ever seen in my life: here is the heart of the ship, and Amaterasu's whispers rise up like a tide, urging me to let her out, to let her feed, and even here where I am able to distinguish between her thoughts and mine, I want to do as she asks. This amphitheatre-sized chamber is the Wandering Star's FTL drive, full of catwalks and strange technological devices and readouts and instrumentation so alien that I can't even begin to hope to understand it. But then, I don't need to, because what I see next stills even the hungry murmurs of Amaterasu within my mind.

There, all around the white rock engine, are strange, familiar figures. Each of them like the One Who Bridges the Gap, each of them different. Each of them like an idealized Cheldrun figure, and each of them with vibrant, otherworldly eyes. Some blue, some yellow, some red, some other colours, but each of them like mine; each of them like Nero's.

"I'm home," I whisper.

welcome home

Episode 27: After a Death

We teleport out of the Wandering Star and into the medical bay in one gut-wrenching moment.


I can't think. Everything has leaked out of me. I don't know how much of the blood is mine. Zipporah! "HighDive, I need you...to hide...Mokuzai." She looks confused. "I don't want...I don't want Zipporah to see him..."

"Oh. Was she his wife?"

What? "What?"


I'm drawing a blank. Is she speaking Cheldrun? What is going on? Has the Zipsum snapped?

"Second cousin...?"

"No, she's - I - you've been on a ship with her for months, we've...never mind. Just hide his head. Please." She shrugs, shoves it into a drawer. "No, Zip might need to go in that drawer. Someplace else..."I hold open the door, but HighDive doesn't get the hint, and instead shoves Mokuzai's severed, tongueless head into a freezer. "HighDive -"

Behind me, there is a sound of scrambling and Zipporah bursts into the room, looking panicked. She slowly takes in the scene, horror growing on her face.

Rei tries to be helpful. I wish she wouldn't. "Most of the blood isn't mine."

HighDive blurts out "Yeah, a lot of it came out of Mokuzai."

I think if I can grab her, now while she's distracted, I can crush her in my bare hands. Zip looks to me, stark white, clearly approaching shock. "Look, Zip, I...Mokuzai...Mokuzai died. He's. He's gone." I can see her just going blank, probably looking exactly how I do right now. "But right now, we have to think about Una and Kyoshi. They're alive, but they're really hurt." She sees the hole in my shoulder, slowly leaking a twisting trail of blood that bends lazily without any gravity. Then she sees Kyoshi, grits her teeth, and moves over to the table where Rei is trying to strap him down.

Rei grimaces and starts in with her lecturing-voice. "Listen, don't try to cut him or drain any humors or anything, because he's already lost a lot of blood -"

"Shut up and hold him down" and she is bending over him and starting to work. I love you.

I black out for a minute, then, realize I need to go help Trencher with the gun so that more eyeless don't get to the Senin.

"Don't. You. Dare." I freeze. Its really easy to stop moving. I feel sleepy. I watch blood trail out of me...

Some time later, Zipporah's tears have let some of her pain out, just enough to keep going, just like we're feeling - so much all at once! - and Una's tears have restored me completely. We just go throughout the world, these past months, brimming over with miracles, and all we get is blood and gore in return. If Karia didn't have her heroes, would it really be worse off? I can't even guess, sometimes. Looking at Rei, I'm not sure hero is even the right word. She and HighDive are half Kyo-tee-shee now as far as I can tell. And Rei is getting worse.


I learn that you can cry and shoot a heavy-caliber machine-gun at the same time. I feel like in all the world, only we would have any chance to learn things like that. When my eyes dry out, I have time to think. We need to block the door. The eyeless are very strong - not quite as strong as me, but there are lots of them. I think about plugging the door, about welding it shut, about collapsing it. But we have limited rounds, and we still have work to do. I'm not done here. We're not done.

I want to tear this damned thing out of the sky.

But first things first. And I have time. I try to relax, to think like I'm somewhere else. What's in here? The scaffolding and the catwalk (or cat-crawl?). It looks solid. Loads of stray bullets haven't broken it loose. I look around. There's a lot of heavy metal paneling. It'll take a while, but I think I can pry it up. And a weld won't hold long enough. I relax some more. I remember...I remember being very little. When I was with Namie. They brought in a 'specialist'. Everyone talked about it real careful, and I got scared that I was sick. They said "no" and their looks said "yes". But all it turned out to be was this friendly older man with spectacles who made me play games with him. One of the games was where he put a bunch of weird blocky shapes in front of me in a pile, and showed me a picture of a cube. I was still nervous. Just wait, little Moshe, until you see how they fit.

I remember when he left to talk with my adopted parents, I didn't hear all they said, but I did hear what he said about me. He's cognitively defective, as we guessed, but benign. Mild retardation, really. He should be able to lead a normal life.

I waited until I saw how it fit together. How to block the eyeless out unless they bring dynamite or an Oni. And more than that. I'm starting to see a lot.


HighDive bursts into the room, gasping. "Angry Oni!" she says, and points back the way she came.

"What!?" I've been arguing with Rei. She wants to go into the core of the ship and feed who-knows-how-much Whiterock to her damn Kyo-tee-shee. I'd wish she'd make her own choices, but I've seen how bad that can go too. I can't think about what to do about Rei right now. I yank the cable I'm using to power the computer Rei was using to find the engines and start re-attaching it to the main pneumatic relay in my right leg. "Ok, that's it. We need to get out of here." Rei snaps some instructions HighDive's way as she's darting out the door.

We follow, more slowly, only to reach the vast engine bay just as HighDive is leaving it. It looks like she's a firework-rocket trailing dozens of eyeless angrily swarming after her. I guess this means she's done? We get back to the chamber and she goes down the opposite passage to set her other explosives.

Rei is staring at something. I turn to look. Una does too. The security hatch behind us, the one leading to the Whiterock, starts to ripple and bend. I remember Karaku-Oni and immediately call on a miracle, summoning shields in front of everyone, trying to backpedal out of the room as quickly as I can.

And then a figure emerges, rippling liquid metal, and it hardens into a perfect Biomade face with red-tinged eyes. Another fucking Rei-sibling??

It sucks in a breath like we're just what it was hoping to find. "At last, you've come. The Answer."

Then its looking at Rei. Something is going on between them. Is it talking to Rei or Amaterasu? Does it matter?

"Yes...its taken me a long time to find you."

"Its taken us a long time to find them." It nods to us, looks us over, taking its time. Just when I started to think I'd figured things out.

Looking at Una and me, it says "Malice must come to an end."

Malice. Oh. Ok. I get it. It and Rei are still talking, like a family reunion. Una argues, panicking, pointing to Rei and me - "They're malice, not us!"

No, Una, we're all malice to this thing. It has introduced itself as The One Who Bridges the Gap, and Rei is talking again. "My name is Rei." It doesn't buy that. "I'm...Mikomi?" I've heard the name before. "I'm...I'm she who hopes."

"Ah, yes. that makes sense." What the hell are you doing?? "Come, we must resolve this." It gestures toward Una, myself and HighDive, who has just returned, slamming the hatch behind her, angry eyeless pounding on the far side.

Then Garandu-Oni slides through one wall, and opposite it, Suraisu-Oni. She Who Hopes and The One Who Bridges the Gap slide out a far door. I hear a voice in my mind: "RUN".

No. We're not fast enough. I turn to Una and HighDive. "Get back to the ship."

There's something I've been wanting to do ever since Mokuzai died, even back to when we first entered this damned floating tomb of gore. "I've got your answer." I close my eyes, and I hear it, building like a song, a low hum echoing throughout this part of the ship as plates pull away from each other, as bindings and fixtures and reinforcing bars begin to thrum, then shake, then buckle. I want to tear this fucking ship apart. I barely feel the impact of Suraisu-Oni's whirling drill-blade as it bites into my body and twists, cutting flesh and metal effortlessly.

It erupts out of me, an awful miracle rolling out from beneath me like a vast wave, and everything tears itself apart with screams of metal, shapnel rolling all around us. I see Garandu-Oni stagger and begin to come apart - just as its tentacles hit me they are flayed at the moment they begin to suck out my life. I see Suraisu-Oni sheared partially open. In a rage it sends both attacks to me, and those I feel. Una is healing herself, her tears cutting shining blue tracks in her face, and then there is an explosion of shining blue feathers that chokes and blinds all of us. I hear Una say "Cover our escape!" and then she goes limp in my arms.


The feathers dissipate while we flee, but they're upon us as soon as we reach the metal bracing structure I'd built so damn well. HighDive has battered a hole to get through, and Trencher widens it so I can push Una through too. It hits him too late that I'm not coming.

I turn to the passage, see the first writhing tentacles of Garandu-Oni sliding around a bend in the corridor, seeking us, and the grinding of Suraisu-Oni right behind.

I'm too close to the Senin. So I rush them. When they get to the curve in the corridor I can find no words - and then a wave even more vast than the first bursts out of me. Garandu-Oni is torn apart in a shower of metal and energy, and Suraisu-Oni is cut up even more.

Then the hungry silence outside sucks us right out the hole I just made.

I have time for two parting shots, burning Suraisu with my own blood and breath, channeling the pain out of me and into it in a beam of red. Trencher drags himself on board and throws me a cable. I barely have the strength to grab it. We pull ourselves back onto the Senin. I feel no better than when we teleported into the medical bay three hours ago. The Wandering Star is still intact. We lost Mokuzai, and we lost Rei. Kyoshi was wrong - the Oni can't really be killed at all.

I think of Amaterasu eating all of that Whiterock.

We keep getting our asses handed to us, but the Kyo-tee-shee are winning.

But not you Tanuki. Not you.

Episode 26: The Wandering Star

It is a bit disconcerting to suddenly know how to use something that you have no idea how it works. It is like suddenly finding yourself a consummate rider without having the slightest clue what a horse was or whether or not it was going to eat you. There were some strange similarities to Mecha piloting actually. Should I ever find myself in one of those again I think I might do much better than I used to.

The... 'flight' I guess is the term... took longer than I would have supposed. Once we left the planet things became interesting: we lost all gravity and everything that was not strapped down started floating about. After several hours we finally reached our destination. It was... immense. It made the Rodan seem a pigeon. We found a docking-hole that was open and I maneuvered the Sennin inside. Unfortunately said hole was open to space and our ancestors had passed down that space was much like the deepest part of the ocean: no air to breathe, deadly cold, and deadly pressure. Thankfully Moses had somehow become equipped to deal with these things and Rei used an old deep sea suit to accompany him into the ship to find a way to close the massive outer doors. It turned out that brute force was the answer as Moses simply pulled them shut. The problem was that there was still no air within the dock so they flailed and cartwheeled around a bit until they finally broke open an inner door letting in air... and Eyeless. Rei teleported them back into the ship (And she had better be telling the truth about that being one of her katas. If I find out she has been using a disLocator and potentially endangering us all...) and I unleashed Sennin's guns upon the Enemy. Easy enough.

That was when the tricky part began. I knew from the vision I had when I touched the Flame that we were looking for a room on level Z. We started in and found ourselves confronting hordes of Eyeless. Most of them were dressed in archaic Allskin clothing. A good many of them even bore the mon of the Silver Phoenix Clan. Some were even more disturbing however: some wore the armor of Hei Shi. How had they gotten here? No, obviously they teleported. The real question was how Katashi Blade found out about this place and what he was sending them here for.

We reached a lift eventually and as Moses started to open the doors he was attacked by giant tentacles of light that reached through the doors themselves, passing through without damaging them. I was not about to let an Enemy attack us with impunity so I cut an opening in the door and we hurtled into the shaft to do battle with... Garandou Oni? Apparently it had not died back in Geneva Prime after all. The fighting was fierce but we had all gained in skill since our last encounter with the demon and things were a lot more one-sided this time around. I decided to summon Tsukuyomi and send him against the Oni figuring that it did not much matter to me which of them killed the other. Despite looking rather impressive as he descended upon Garandou Oni in the form of a roiling maelstrom, he did not manage to do much until after the battle when he returned to me and brought with him a portion of the fallen demon's manna. I felt invigorated, but also, considering the source, nauseated. At least now we could be pretty sure it was dead for good after being eaten by a Kyo Tee Shee.

After licking our wounds we continued along, still wading through an army of Eyeless. After a couple false starts we finally found the correct room, the one that was named to me in my vision. Even if it had not been I would have known it was correct; from the symbol on the door it was a Temple to the First Minds. Not wanting to desecrate the temple doors we tried to find a simple way in. Una summoned Susanoo and he used his mastery of electricity to power the long-defunct keypad which Rei then used her knowledge of electronics to bypass and open the door.

Inside there was a temple where I lit incense and made proper observances. This was also supposed to be a repository of knowledge however so I paid attention to the one thing that seemed out of place: six bells placed equidistantly about the room. Each bell had a First Mind rune for a familiar concept: Freedom, Justice, Peace, Forgiveness, Temperance, Hope. Elder Moon had applied each of these concepts to one of us so I decided to try something similar to what we did at Ben Hamor. We each stood at the appropriate bell and rang them at the same time. Nothing happened. Unfortunately the noise seemed to disturb something as we heard hideous noises outside right after. Rei closed the doors to give us more time and I thought. Each of us was associated with a concept, each with a Kyo Tee Shee, each with a color. I remembered the Hierarchy of Colors and we rang our bells in order of Highest to Lowest Color.

That seemed to do the trick. With a grinding noise the altar moved aside revealing a passage to another room. Meanwhile something huge was pounding on the outer door which was starting to buckle. We quickly ducked into the new room and while someone hit the bells in the reverse order which caused the hidden door to close behind us.

Within we found a strange room. There was a screen on the wall and a keypad like a computer but the keys were all First Mind runes. There were also six small recesses, three in each wall, that seemed to open into darkness. Once again utilizing Susanoo as a battery, much to his annoyance (which made it even more satisfying of course) we managed to get the ancient computer working and from it we learned a horrible tale.

The ancient Cheldrun Empire had been based on the properties of white rock. They used its abilities to draw on seemingly unlimited energy and to transport both energy and matter to create a civilization that spanned across the stars. The Cheldrun who recorded the information was obviously crazed however; he was under the impression that the energy white rock summoned was taken directly from the First Minds themselves and that the Enemy was none other than They come to punish us! I had always thought of the First Minds as more of a metaphor for Cheldrun potential but... perhaps they were physical beings akin to the Dusk Sages. And perhaps the Oni were another version of Kyo Tee Shee created when we siphoned manna from the First Minds... (It had not escaped me that the naming conventions for the Dusk Sages and the Oni were so similar.)

Enough speculation. We discovered a few important facts. White rock does indeed attract the Enemy, as does any strong concentration of manna, including ourselves, but only when it is activated. Goshi's recent experiments with the substance must be what drew their attention. More though, the Enemy can use white rock to come here from... wherever they come from and perhaps to go back again. It is a conduit for them. Also, the great flight almost succeeded until the Biomade rebelled and activated the engine of the Wandering Star; an engine made around a gigantic core of white rock. Because of that act the Enemy have been aware of our presence here this entire time.

We did not have time to sit and digest this information as whatever had broken into the Temple was now battering down the secret door. I told the computer to make its information portable and each of the recesses extruded a metallic arm holding a disk. I quickly gathered the disks and tucked them safely in my belt pouch. Just in time too; the wall collapsed to reveal several Eyeless and Asamu Oni. We quickly became embattled but moments later the back wall collapsed to reveal a towering metallic form with giant drills instead of hands. I tried not to make any comparisons to Moses as it boomed "I am Suraisu Oni, the One Who Tears!"

Things got extremely hectic at this point. Moses was enveloped by Asamu Oni and Rei was desperately trying to pull him out. High Dive attacked Suraisu Oni full bore and only managed to scratch its metallic hide. Mokuzai flattened the Eyeless with a clap of thunder and Una blasted Suraisu Oni through dozens of walls with a gigantic kata; something that did not seem to faze it much. Remembering my thoughts during the previous fight that maybe having the Kyo Tee Shee eat them was the only way to finish them off I summoned Tsukuyomi once again and prepared to attack.

All the way from where she had blasted it, more than a hundred meters away, Suraisu Oni somehow launched one of its drill hands at Una, its arms stretching impossibly long to gore her chest. She fell back with a cry, slumping to the floor and clutching her bleeding chest. It then charged back into the room we were in and started spinning like a child's top, its arms stretching out and cutting Highdive, Mokuzai, and myself. All this time I had been studying the demon, watching its movements, and now I was certain precisely where to strike. I did so and felt Keibatsu's keen edge and hunger for the flesh of the Enemy cut deeply. I felt the blade giving me energy to keep fighting its hated foe...

This got Suraisu Oni's attention. It bellowed in rage and pain and turned toward me, staring burning malevolence. "I will deal with you next" it intoned. I had seen what a direct hit from those drills could do to a body; I knew this could be trouble. It started to point its weapons at me and I prepared a desperate defense. At this point it was strangely quiet for a battlefield. Mokuzai had stopped singing when he was hurt and now I thought I heard him mutter something about "fool boy" and "fool promise" and most emphatically "fool old man". Then he did something, a kata I guess, that drew the demon's attention squarely away from me. Based on the rainbow light that burst from it and flowed to him I would say he was stealing its manna, something that seemed to piss it off to no end and it started for him instead.

I quickly moved to cut it off, to keep it from hurting the old Prill who still held it at bay, but just then Moses came hurtling out of the ruined Temple, Asamu-Oni no more than a quivering puddle at this point, and started grappling his demonic counterpart. I looked for an opening to strike but they moved too much! Moses thought he was keeping it away from us, but he had not seen how far its arms could stretch. Indeed, even as it grappled with Moses I saw its gaze remain on Mokuzai. "Steal my manna will you?" it bellowed. And then it struck.

In the last instant things seemed to slow down. Mokuzai gave me a look that seemed exasperated. It seemed to say "Go on boy, get on with it!" Then his expression softened, became one of... peace. And then the drills tore into his fragile old body, shredding it like so much wet paper, tossing blood and viscera in every direction to float eerily about like macabre snowflakes.

I do not know who was louder in the next moment: Suraisu Oni's howl of triumph, Moses' cry of effort and concern for his friend, or my scream of pure rage and hatred. I leaped forward and Moses saw me coming. He wrenched himself into a position that pinned the demon and gave me a clear shot, though I would have to go through him to do so, and gave me a look that somehow mimicked the one Mokuzai had given me moments before. This time I did not hesitate: I drove Keibatsu through Moses' shoulder and deep into Suraisu Oni's face, through its head, into the deck. I felt Keibatsu feeding on its twisted life along with the Kyo Tee Shee and saw its form break apart and fade away. Once it was gone I retracted the blade and floated away from Moses' bleeding form.

And just that suddenly it is over. I take stock of the situation. Una is still, floating in the air, maybe dead. Rei is floating in from the direction of the Temple, a look of satisfaction on her face. Moses looked wounded and woozy, but solid as ever. Highdive looked like... well, like she always does. And Mokuzai... his head floated by, a look of serenity on his wrinkled old face, his ears sticking up and making him look alert. If I had not been within the void I might have vomited or cried or even laughed at the dark irony that we finally found information only to lose our wisdom.

Then I saw her: Kijuuki. Mokuzai's Kyo Tee Shee had escaped and assumed her crane form and was greedily sucking up the last remnants of manna from the fallen Oni. Rage suffused me at the fact that my friend had died and this abomination had benefited. I reached out and grasped the startled spirit around the throat. Staring into its eyes I promised it that its freedom would be short lived. And then my world exploded into pain. Again. I hate it when that happens...

Director of Research and Development

White Fog.

Latex gloves peel away and drop into the stainless steel sink. The tap water rinses streams of crimson blood down the drain. Dr. Omura grabs a wire brush and begins to scrape his hands clean. In the past he had never been squeamish about blood, but recently he'd begun to feel that the blood from these autopsies was unnaturally unclean. It was irrational, but all compulsions are irrational.

Four Hei-Shi bodies lay on tables in the room, their chest cavities opened for inspection. The death toll had been phenomenal lately. So much so that most Hei-Shi were nothing of the sort - just your average Biomade athletes crammed into cobalt body armor and given a bare minimum of training. It was embarrassing really, but even Goshi couldn't conjure more soldiers out of thin air.

The deaths were not all combat related. Many were coming back with strange growths like the ones Hurricane had displayed. Others simply had their eyes boil out of their sockets and become mindless killing machines. All of them, even ones who were dissected like the ones on his table, seemed to end up that way eventually - death being no obstacle to the eyeless monstrosities Silex Niveus seemed to create. The solution, for now, was to disLocate the dead and the walking dead to coordinates relayed from Katashi Blade. The coordinates changed daily and no one knew where Blade was getting the information, but they were somewhere in orbit around Karia...

White Fog.

Yes, in orbit. Dr. Omura couldn't believe it himself, but apparently the Executor had gained access to or had knowledge of a spaceship. It went against everything the Cheldrun had sworn as a people since the end of the Flight. There was to be no more space travel. No more tinkering in the pandora's box that once created an empire, but also resulted in that empire's destruction. The only safety from the Enemy was cowering here on this distant planet, landbound and quiet enough not to draw attention...

Dr. Omura scrubbed until the flesh of his hands was inflamed and sore. The astringent soap burned, but it was better than leaving any speck of corrupted blood on his skin.

Of course, it was completely foolish to pretend that the Enemy was just a vague threat from the past any longer. He frequently tried, but he could not deny the evidence of his eyes. The Hei-Shi were transforming into demon-spawn. There was no other word for it. And the demons? They had appeared at least twice, already. Once right here in Geneva Prime about nine months ago. It had exploded killing millions of people. The second time was in Omexon just over two months hence - a vast figure that melted structures and incinerated crowds.

No one was trying to hide this fact. Goshi had been using it to their advantage, actually. Daily bulletins announced the threat of the Enemy and the absolute need for compliance. For most Cheldrun the fear of the Enemy was so instinctual, so overwhelming, that even ancient opponents of Geneva Prime had willingly offered Goshi all their military support to protect Karia.

Nothing made Dr. Omura more ill than knowing that in a small way he was contributing to the eventual annihilation of his species. Every new disLocator installed was another demon-spawn unleashed. Goshi was not protecting the Cheldrun. On the contrary, Goshi was laying the continent bare for an invasion of horrific proportions.

Thinking these thoughts were bound to shorten his lifespan, but Dr. Omura was prepared to bet large sums of money that dying at the hands of an assassin would be infinitely preferable to anything the Enemy would do to him. Indeed, he no longer made any pretenses in front of anyone but Katashi Blade, that he had any confidence in the White Rock Project. In fact, Blade himself could not be under the illusion that his director of Research and Development was a loyal puppy... what could this game be about?

Drying his hands, Dr. Omura brushed his last few hairs across his bald head. He walked across the room to an acrylic panel pulsating with psychic energy and entered in today's coordinates. The Hei-Shi bodies disappeared in a whirl of smoke, gone to some distant spot beyond the atmosphere.

Now why did I do that? I had no intention of sending them away this time. I was going to... White fog.

What was I thinking?

Oh yes, how on earth does Blade keep getting me to do his foul work for him? I want no part of...
White fog.

The door opened and a young lab technician came inside, "Dr. Omura the next batch of autopsies is about to arrive. The Executor sent word that he wants you to inspect this group personally again, because the data you glean is of such excellent quality."

Huh? Had he agreed to do more autopsies? ... "Oh, yes of course. Send them in."

Metal on Metal

Sparks erupt as Moses slams into Suraisu Oni, their metal plating grinding together, dragged down together in a tangle of rage and limbs. The Oni is frighteningly strong. Blackrock is still boiling Moses' blood and he rolls with the Oni, trying to avoid the grinding limbs still spinning, the image of them grinding through Mokuzai's helpless body burned into Moses' mind.

He hears Kyoshi coming. The Oni twists in his grasp like a coiled spring, shuddering with effort. Through its metal skin Moses can hear gear-teeth tearing at one another, levers straining and snapping. He grits his teeth and clenches harder, white spots appearing in his vision, straining, until he hears the Oni's body begin to buckle and cave.

Kyoshi is sailing gracefully through the air. The Oni makes a last thrashing effort to get free. Moses feels his grip slipping, trying to avoid Keibatsu's shining blade -

A fragment of Gogajin field-hat floats past lazily, its edge soaked in blood.

Moses chokes back a strangled sob and shifts his weight unexpectedly, twisting the body of the Oni so that it is on top of him, gripped in his straining arms. He slides up his mechanical hand and clenches down on the Oni's neck, ratcheting its head to the side so that it rests on his shoulder, immobilized.

He looks up to catch the ferocious silver gleam in Kyoshi's eyes, light lightening burning in a storm-cloud. A white-hot bar of agony sears through Suraisu Oni's head, shears it apart, continues down through Moses' shoulder, cutting down into the mix of altered flesh and machinery that is beneath it. He feels it grind out through the other side of his body, pinning him to the floor.

Everything goes black.

He sees Mokuzai, seated, his back to him, hunched as if exhausted. He is in a dark room, alone, preparing a cup of tea, singing softly as if to himself in a low, clear voice. The light in the room is fading. Moses tries to call out but there is no breath here. As the light is snuffed out, the last thing is the gleam of the edge of a worn, battered hat, its curve like a slow, grim smile.


At a Loss for Words

All the noise makes reading very difficult. The irritation is like a itch that doesn't need scratching just yet, but you might pre-empt it with a lazy claw before it gets out of hand.

"Would you kindly quiet down? I need to concentrate."

Sloan grunts as he plants the blunt end of the haft he's holding into yet another security soldier's face, snapping his head backward and making his knees buckle. He flinches as a shower of stray bullets tears past him and hammers against the far wall.

"I swear by Ben Hamor that if these bloody ::grunt:: bastards ::crack:: ever get tired of gettin' knocked on their asses ::thud::, I'll bloody well kill you!"

Gogajin. So excitable! Amazing they have any semblance of society at all.

Varissa is out of feathered shafts and is behind Sloan, crouched, ready to hamstring any that get past with her wicked curved blades. She glares at Jin and shows her teeth to him.

Jevumm, of course, have not even a semblance of society, and not for the first time, Jin is happy that the blood covering her arms up to the shoulders is not his; yet at the same time regretful that he has been forced to endure such odd bedfellows (as the Gogajin say - something about mammals sleeping in groups).

But there are more important things to concern him now. Jin needs to activate this fantastic Cheldrun device, and he can't find any kind of instructions anywhere on it.

The device itself offers no hints as to how it functions, exactly. It does not draw on a visible power source (the Cheldrun use veins called cables to carry mechine-energy, Jin knows). It is simply a textured cyllindrical object, dull black, with six spokes rising up from the edges of it, a bit like metallic teeth. In the center on the top a small circular depression is visible. There are what appear to be written characters etched into the surface at regular intervals - not Cheldrun, even more alien.

Jin sighs, and for a moment notices that Sloan is on the floor grimacing in a small pool of blood. Varissa leaps through the air, shifting into a massive hunting cat in mid-air. She slams into the first soldier who tries to enter through the wrecked security door and disappears in a spray of gore. Jin blocks out the screaming from outside the room which is now echoing in the hallway. He notices a device he's always been curios about.

It is, he believes, a data port. Data, as in ontologies; port, as in the place where Cheldrun oceangoing vessels accumulate to disgorge their cargo. It appears to have two cables attaching it to a pair of orifices in the wall. He touches it gently with the tips of his claws, presses the button that bears the symbol the Cheldrun use for the transmission of energy into or out of a mechanical device. The data port lights up and he flinches back as a ghostly, pixellated image erupts out of the device.

He smiles a long smile, and begins manipulating the keys of the machine, assembling Cheldrun words in order to instruct the machine to reveal what it contains. He quickly finds the collections of information pertaining to the device in the room - the data port seems to have been used as supplemental memorization for whoever has been working with the device thus far. The notes are laborious to read, clearly written by a borderline imbecile who needs to record every detail of every activation method attempted.

Finally Jin finds what he wants, slows to read very carefully, unblinking.

Both Sloan and Varissa are outside the room now, shouting to each other. There is the percussive thudding of bodies against floors, walls...ceiling? A collective shout and Sloan is driven back through the door into the room, his feet sliding in the blood on the floor, grappling with four soldiers. A fifth soldier climbs through the wreckage, sees Jin near the wondrous device, and raises his weapon.

A small sign escapes before Jin's dewlaps erupt in a riot of bright colors. His mouth opens suddenly and with a coughing sound he sends a spray of acidic fluid into the face of the soldier. He falls back, wiping frantically at his face and then beginning to scream as he drives more burning fluid into his eyes. The other four soldiers have dragged Sloan down the floor and they are trying to beat him into submission. Jin hunches and leaps, catching one of their helmets in his claw as he passes over the mound of struggling mammals, jerking the soldier's neck and unbalancing him - Vorax-Snatches-Zipsum. Another tries to rise and Jin ducks down, whirling, his tail slamming into the soldier's shaky legs and sending him sprawling - Rising-Water-Trip. As he falls Jin snatches a truncheon from his belt and cracks the temple of a third soldier who has lost his helmet entirely.

The first soldier has righted his helmet and lunges at Jin. They fall in a tangle, but Jin quickly maneuvers out of his grasp, scuttles around to his back and grabs his limbs with clawed feet, left hand, and tail, immobilizing them with a Relentless-Clinging-Vine technique. With his free hand, Jin pulls off his helmet and beats his skull with it until he goes limp.

Sloan, covered entirely with blood, rises to his feet, gasping for air, looking at Jin with his mouth hanging open. "You -"

"Behind you."

He turns just in time to grapple with a fresh soldier. "Reinforcements!" Varissa shouts from out in the hall. Sloan grimaces. "This had better be worth it you bloody lizard." Jin just watches, unblinking.

He turns from the tumult to the device, bends down, and begins depressing areas around a specific series of "First Mind" runes (whatever Cheldrun fallacy that represents). With the last one, the device begins to shift and change. It comes alight, the runes shining out and projecting their images on the walls in bright purple light. As the device shifts and swells, the runes move in whirling patterns. Jin steps back, watching raptly, revealing its internal workings.

There is a chamber at the center through which its energy passes, from the Power Core to the Differential Layer. It is designed to hold a special substance in inertial suspension, altering the charge of the energy passing through before it is projected outward. But the machine has an immediate effect as well - the room quickly begins cooling as particles slow and vital energy dissipates. Jin feels a tremendous weight when he tries to move, and the hallway is suddenly quite quiet. He slowly, gruellingly reaches down into the padded satchel that he's been carrying for months now, reinforced by a careful geodesic latticework of reeds to protect the Vorax egg from being broken. Jin heaves it out of the satchel, already slowing down drastically, feeling an overwhelming need to go to sleep. His steps shuffle forward toward the device.

Clawlength by clawlength he heaves the egg outward and upward, bathed in flickering purple light, until it comes into contact with the stasis field at the center of the machine. Suddenly it slips into the field effortlessly. He watches, heavy-lidded, a distant part of him grinning in triumph, as the egg is burned, cracks, and is incinerated by the energy, rendered from sold and fluid to a colloid inside the chamber. The colloid has its effect, imparting its unique charge to the energy passing through the chamber.

There is a blinding flash of purple light that passes through Jin's body, through the walls of the chamber, outward until it passes through the streets of the city, outward and upward, a rising tide of shimmering purple light, First Mind runes crawling across the surface of the bubble of radiance that is quickly rising to cover the entirety of Stardown, stretching even further, kilometers in every direction, passing over villages and towns and farms, until it comes to rest at last, a vast purple dome.

At first there are screams, panic, scattering, shouting, alarms, and then the sounds die away, until the vast city of Stardown falls silent, watching the dome of light cover them until even the light of the sun takes on a faint purple tinge, seeing the ancient runes on its surface and feeling that they are somehow both alien and familiar, like a half-remembered dream.

Hei-Shi break from their stupor of suprise, their ear-pieces exploding with frantic traffic. They attempt to activate their Dis-Locators...and nothing happens. There is a faint sound of burning circuitry. Nothing.

About this time, Stardown rises up. Hei-Shi blood flows, broken blue armor is stuffed with straw and rags and burned in effigy. Goshi representatives sent to maintain the peace are chased through the streets and beaten by mobs. Goshi monitors are smashed and torn down by shouting revolutionaries. The city scrambles to find some way to respond.

They are suddenly at war.

Bits and Pieces

Bits and pieces of Mokuzai were still dripping off the wall and floating about in the zero gravity environment that was the old First Mind temple when Rei finally made her way over towards what was left of the old Prill. Suraisu-Oni was devoured, and Asamu-Oni as well. Asamu-Oni's mana tasted faintly of decay, but in a way that Rei associated more with grilled mushrooms than with any kind of putrescence. Suraisu-Oni, on the other hand, tasted more like gears and grease and pistons. Smoky, maybe. Rei could still feel the fire of the mana her other self had gathered, burning in her chest.

It tickled a little bit.

... When had she started thinking of Amaterasu as her other self? They'd only been joined for a little while now. It seemed strange to her that she would think that about the little girl, eagle, or whatever she was. Kyo-TeeShee. My Kyo-TeeShee and Me. Heehee. Rei tried not to giggle out l0ud, since she thought it wouldn't be appropriate with Mokuzai all in bits and pieces floating around the room and on the wall.

High Dive had made a little pile of bloodied ground meaty bits in a corner, and it wasn't funny at all. Not even a little bit. Well, maybe a little. Especially the shock in Suraisu-Oni's face as she had leapt onto him and begun to devour his spicy anti-soul... Rei shook her head. No. That had been Amaterasu, not her self.

Kiyoshi was moving around somewhere behind her, talking to Mokuzai's Kyo-TeeShee, but all of that seemed very uninteresting to Rei just then. She knew that she needed more than anything to understand the Oni, especially after what she had just learned of their nature. First Minds, First Minds, Firsty-Firsty-Mindy-Minds...

Rei grimaced slightly as she concentrated, and the flow of her own thoughts separated from Amaterasu's, and she understood the difference between the two. For the moment. Amaterasu kept in singing her song about Firsty-Minds, and Rei snatched Mokuzai's head from where it was spinning in the air and set it down to float gently above the pile of bloody bits and pieces.

It was a strange contrast, the peaceful look on that face and the bloody giblets that floated there all in a pile. "Some must be sacrificed if all are to be saved," she murmured to Mokuzai's floating head.

Mokuzai didn't reply.

"I think I'm starting to understand, old man," she said. "What it is we have to do. What it's all about. To sacrifice everything, even our lives, by the thousands, by the millions, for one another..." she trailed off. A last spurt of blood had come out of the bottom of Mokuzai's severed head, and it had provided enough force to send it spiraling towards the upper corner of the First Mind shrine, where two walls met the ceiling.


Once, twice, three times it bounced, and then began to sink back down towards the pile of bits and pieces as the last of the bloodflow ceased, and the kinetic energy imparted to it by impacting the ceiling took over. Down it went, until it finally landed upside down on the pile, and its eyelids fell open.

Rei looked into Mokuzai's sightless gaze for a long, long moment.

"Huh," she said.

The All

Spinning beyond time. Ever changing yet eternally consistent, the All is that which is. It initiates ineffably, untraceably and implacably the Unraveling.

The All unravels galaxies.
Galaxies unravel stars.
Stars unravel planets.
Planets unravel life-givers, the Dusk Sages.

The Dusk Sages are the last tools of the All. The final stage before the Question. It is they who unravel life.

The Unraveling is inevitable, more certain than gravity, but it continues not for itself, but for the possibility of the conditions of the Question. The Question is all that lives. Life itself is what the All is asking and all of the tools of the All, galaxies, stars, planets and sages, exist but to create the conditions of life.

Questions require answers.

As the Unraveling progresses, life spreads, and advances. But eventually the tools themselves unravel completely. The crisis. The cataclysm. The All has addressed its question to the void and the drama plays out. An answer is given.

Does a question cease being asked once it is answered? Is there only one answer? The choices of the living are opaque. The intention of the All is unknowable. Curiosity and anticipation are all that we have.

Karia is a tool of the All. Not living herself she worships life. She bends her ear to their songs and she watches avidly. A desire to know how it will unfold her only pressing reality. She acts as a tool - according to the demands of the one who wields her. Choice is not a gift she possesses, but her actions nevertheless have consequences. The ones she has marked and bound to herself will bear those consequences and likewise she will know weal or woe in accordance with their behavior. It is the first time in countless eras that her future has been uncertain. She likes it.

An answer will be given. Praise the All, an answer will be given, at last.