“I discovered my ‘abilities’ quite early on in my life. Some Type 2’s don’t realize what they are until someone points out how they age ‘really well’ – as in not at all. Some discover it after they recover from an impossible accident, others when they accidentally destroy something with their energy.” Monsele paused with a smirk. “As I told you before, I’ve known of my abilities since I was young, but I didn’t know they’re not normal until I decided to terrorize my parents with that plush.”
“From what I read on Nycombs back in the day, you all were a mostly science-driven race, weren’t you?”
“We were. I’d like to think we still are, but the lines have since became blurry…” The nycomb sat down comfortably on the floor, lowering the seat of Krestean’s chair so that the two of them could make eye contact easier. “So as you can imagine, after seeing me seemingly defy natural order of things, my parents panicked. They told me to not show this off to anyone while they find someone who’s able to understand how I’m able to change reality at will. And they did.”
“Turns out the nycombian gods and goddesses cooped themselves up in temples all across Neastia. Some bigger, other smaller, all were theoretically places of worships to gods, but in practice they were those same gods workplaces. The secrecy seemed fitting, and the long robes made everyone look so alike, that nobody noticed that majority of the temple’s staff did not change across centuries. Most importantly for me however, there were classes – taught both inside and outside of the temple grounds – teaching new ‘gifted’ about their nature and how to control themselves. I could go off on a whole tangent about what I learned there, but maybe some other time.”
“A temple on the planet Yagurn near the edge of Neastia became my new home. It wasn’t particularly grand – it stood on top a small hill, overlooking a town that spread around the river below. Our Queen at the time, and a few before her, focused on gathering resources to trade with, which resulted in plenty of small towns scattered around planets and asteroids, focused on extracting goods and delivering them to stations in orbit, which then distributed them wherever they were needed.”
I was still getting accustomed to the new place when the Beast attacked. It’s been maybe two months since I moved into the dorms of the faculty. The entire place was built around an ancient klar tree situated in the middle of a square park, which was at the center of the temple, surrounded by roofed corridors from which various doorways branched out into other sections. There were private training, teaching and living areas, but also a few public areas like the museum – to which I’ll get to in a moment.
The first sign that something was wrong was that the communication with other planets seemed to be offline. Down on the surface we were unaware of all the distress signals, so everyone just assumed that there was a major local systems outage, and that they’d be back up once a professional comes to fix them. Needless to say, nobody ever came.
The second sign came a few days later, and marks the arrival of destruction. At the time I was walking through the paths around the edges of the central park, when I noticed other nycombs pointing at the sky. Usually it’s hard to see the delivery station from below, but on that day there were a lot of flashes coming from it. Some brighter, some dimmer, all of unknown origin.
We didn’t have much time to react before the air started to feel… lighter. Almost tingly. It was such a miniscule detail that we didn’t think much of it, focusing on the possibility of a war going on. What we did notice clearly, was a bright beam of light falling down from the station. The bottom of the ray of light landed behind the mountains at the edge of the horizon, but the shaft itself stayed put – a vibrant pole spanning the height of the atmosphere. At first it seemed to simply stand still as an odd, pulsating cylinder of light. Then it slowly begun to grow thicker and thicker, coming over the tops of the mountains, enveloping them in its light. It became obvious that it wasn’t an ordinary beam of light. It was a seemingly impossible wildfire, stretching from the ground up so high, it pushed against outer space as it spread across the entirety of Yagurn.
The wall of flame moved much too quickly for anyone to escape it. The heat within set dry foliage on fire, but the wall itself wasn’t thick enough to light up wooden buildings, quickly rolling across the world. Despite that, it created a pressure difference between the insides and outsides of buildings, almost simultaneously breaking every window it touched, opening unlocked doors and even ripping some out of their hinges, letting the fire into the insides of buildings.
Unless you were in a perfectly sealed room – for instance on board of a spaceship – you were affected by the flame, and it wrought havoc to any live beings. The fire spread through the air itself, and so not only did it burn our clothes, skin and feathers, it also made its way into our lungs, temporarily turning their insides into balls of flame. Only Type 1 and 2 nycombs were capable to not suffocate instantly, which conveniently enough meant that most of the inhabitants of the temple survived.
Now you’d expect there to be screams of terror and pain, but the entire compound was deafeningly silent. If you don’t count the sound of the great klar burning, and all the panicked hooves hitting the ground in a blind rush to get some water to ease the pain of burnt feathers. Together with our lungs, the flame burned our voice chords, and even the most skilled of beings would first focus on making their lungs work again, which wasn’t the easiest of tasks given the unprecedented nature of the event.
And so there I was: on the ground, wincing at the pain that came with every move. My robes were slightly damp from some training earlier so thankfully they didn’t burn down, but the same couldn’t be said for my feathers. All of the vanes instantly burnt to a crisp, leaving behind a forest of bare barbs. Thinking back, had I had thick fur, my entire body would go up in flames, so feathers that burned faster than the wall of fire moved were, in an odd way, a blessing.
Despite the favorable circumstances, there were plenty of burns along my body, and I could feel my energy trying to get my lungs healed. This meant that all my burns, as painful as they were, became secondary priority to my natural pain relief, and so I had to take care of them myself. I slowly headed for the nearest bathroom that was unlikely to be overflown: the museum’s restroom. Being one of very few publicly available bathrooms, most permanent inhabitants of the temple stayed away from it, but you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.
The museum itself was a mess, with hundreds of glass shards spread all across the stone-tiled floor. Carpets on the floor were burning, just as various info boards and old banners that hung from the walls. I remember wondering why the fire sprinkler system didn’t kick in, but thinking back now it was probably never installed in the museum portion in order not to destroy anything.
Some of the broken glass on the floor came from the tall windows, but most was the result of all the protective casings of various exhibits breaking. In most cases they were there to protect more sensitive items which, quite obviously, were now either completely ruined or burning alongside the other few remaining fires. The only exception to that rule was the sword of Gwi’rnul, which now laid unscathed amongst the shards.
The sword was supposedly locked away because everyone wanted to hold it. Not the visitors though, but the actual staff of the temple that knew better than to touch any of the exhibits. Whoever was near it felt drawn to it, for reasons nobody could seem to verbally express. And so was I.
I can’t put it into words why I wanted to pick it up. I didn’t even notice I’m moving towards it and not the water closet until I had the sword in my grasp. It was an unconscious move, driven by some hidden desire – or manipulated by the sword itself, who knows. What’s important is that I was holding it and… it didn’t feel too special. There was a slight tingle coming from the hilt, but it felt like a normal, old sword. And as I was pondering what’s so special about this particular weapon, a thump came from the outside, followed by a cascade of very loud noises. I didn’t know what was happening until a hole was blown open in the wall, causing the entire roof to collapse.
I instinctively raised my hands to protect myself from the falling ceiling, but I didn’t think I’d make it out, expecting to get crushed and die, given how little energy I had to spare. Yet as the rocks crashed into the ground all around me, knocking up tonnes of dust, I was unscathed, as was a small circle around me – an invisible bubble against which leaned rocks that used to be the roof. I could feel the ground reverberate as more buildings collapsed, but the sounds themselves were distorted, higher pitched and as if very far away.
But as good as the weird bubble was at keeping things from coming in, it was equally good at keeping things from coming out. More specifically me. I quickly figured that the odd shield came from the sword: if I would move with the sword, so would the circle, moving any and all loose stones in its path. If I would leave the sword on the ground I could come up and touch the invisible sphere, but I could not pass through it, nor could I see anything with all the dust everywhere. All I could do is sit down and listen to the indistinguishable rumbles and swishes that came from beyond the barrier.
I used the time to observe the sword. Despite not being used for centuries, maybe even millenia, it was sharper than nature would allow for. I could, with minimal force, push it into the stone below my hooves as if it was nothing more than soft dirt. The blade itself was long and thin, perfectly smooth too. The hilt on the other hand, had many intricate patterns representing leafless trees, whose branches split up more and more until they formed the guard. In the center was a pair of equilateral triangles, connected by a single vertice and perfectly mirrored across the center of the sword. Where the triangles met was a single, irregular gem, pulsating erratically with dim yet clear light.
I don’t know if I passed out from the continuous pain, or simply fell asleep due to lack of energy, but the next thing I remember is jolting awake as a big boulder fell over and landed next to me. It was previously leaning against the invisible sphere, but the shield was now gone and I could feel the wind blowing on my skin. It was nighttime already, and most of the dust has settled down, showing the silent, sprawled pile of stone, wood and large amounts of the locally available consul mixture – which fell out of usage by now, but back when the the temple was first made, it was a miraculous support material. Milik, the adjacent city, was still standing though, save for a handful of buildings, so I decided to go and look for other possible survivors.
I found none.
But the city was not empty. All across the streets, café’s, shops, parks; everywhere you’d look there would be bodies of those who died where they were standing when the flames first hit.
“A horrible sight, isn’t it?” A voice came from behind me. It sounded otherworldly, unnatural even. But when I turned around all I saw was a fellow nycomb. He was quite tall and dark, slowly moving closer. His steps were slow and uncoordinated, and he used a cane of sorts for support. It had an intricate design to it, mostly straight with a crescent top, inside of which was a semi-opaque sphere. Whole thing was covered in dimly lit symbols I did not recognize, but at the time I only thought of them as simple decoration.
I tried to speak, but my lungs wouldn’t let me. The small gasp of air I unwillingly inhaled sent an unpleasant feeling as if someone was really menacingly rubbing against my burns. “Surprised to see me?”
I never met him before but he was right, I was surprised to see anyone out and about so casually. Stranger yet was his lack of scars, as if the apocalyptic disaster didn’t affect him in the slightest. But as many questions as I had, I knew I couldn’t ask them, so I simply nodded.
That got me a cross-eyed look from the nycomb. “You know, at this point mortals usually ask: ‘Who are you?’, ‘Do I know you?’ or something along those lines. I had a whole ‘Who I am does not matter’ thing prepared, but I can’t do it if you just sit there silently,” he sighed, covering his face with the palm of his hand. “You’re a mute aren’t you? Just my luck.”
Even though at the time I was technically unable to speak, I knew it would heal so I shook my head and opened my beak, hoping that the burn marks inside were visible.
“What are you doing?” He asked, so I pointed into my beak. “All I see is a bunch of burns,” he said after giving me a quick glance from where he stood. “What does that have to be with your vo- ohhhhh…” There was a short silence as realization and surprise crept into his eyes. “Wait, so you were here when the beam fell?” I nodded. “And where did you go after that?” I pointed at the ruins of the temple. “But that place was devoid of life by the time I was done, you couldn’t have been there,” I looked at him with confusion. “This won’t do, I need you to talk to me.”
I was about to signal to him that it will probably take a while to heal, but we could use writing of sorts, when the ball on top of his cane momentarily lit up and a cold, soothing sensation filled my throat and lungs. “There, now speak up.”
Hesitantly, I took a shallow breath. To my delight and surprise it didn’t hurt, so I took a deeper one. Then a cough. “You’re very skilled in energy manipulation,” I said, truly impressed with what he’d done.
“Been doing it for longer than anyone you know or will ever meet,” he said dismissively. “Now let’s go from the top. You were present during a flame – was it the one on this planet?”
“Other planets were also affected?”
“I will take that as a yes,” he paused and I thought he was going to ignore my question, but he continued. “And yes, every planet in Neastia had this – or worse – done to it. It is possibly the easiest way to do mass genocide without an astronomical energy usage. No blood, low structural damage, very limited survivors. Quick and clean.”
At that moment I noticed how the alien voice of his seeped with power. A fear crept into me, wondering who, or perhaps what, he really was. I opened my beak to ask, when I remembered that he already said he’d keep it a secret, so I decided against speaking up.
“Don’t keep your questions to yourself,” he said, noticing my hesitation. “You noticed something is off by now, so let’s cut to the chase. Tell me how you managed to hide from me, and in return I won’t kill you. Does that sound fair?” He asked monotonously, leaning against his cane.
“You will what?!” I took a step back, but when I wanted to lift my leg to take one more, I was terrified to realize I’m unable to lift it – it was as if my hooves were super-glued to the ground.
“I want information that you have. I could just invade your memories but that would be no fun. I’m giving you a chance here.”
“Can I at least know who it is that’s blackmailing me?” I didn’t expect a straight answer, but I figured this could be my last chance to ask.
“And that’s how you ask the ‘who are you’ question,” he said, grinning slightly. “Well done, but you’re still not getting my name or you could cause trouble down the line. I’m not proud of what I’m doing here you know, but your queen has broke our pact and endangered someone very dear to me, and this is the consequence.”
“I am an abilo, or at least that’s how we call ourselves. I will not show you my real form for the same reason as my name – I do not want to be recognized for the actions here. Now tell me everything you did from the flame until now.”
I started to slowly tell bit by bit all that happened. When I got to where the falling ceiling was stopped by an unexpected force-field he lifted his hand up to stop me. “There, that’s the moment I came in. I remember a signature in the building you speak of and it disappeared after the roof went down. My assumption that you were crushed by the collapse must’ve been wrong… May I see the sword?”
I didn’t want to give it up, but I figured that if I wouldn’t do it willingly, he would take it anyway. “Remarkable…” He said quietly to himself after receiving the weapon. All of the sudden the markings on his cane begun to glow, and similar markings appeared on the blade of the sword, only to disappear shortly after. “Yes, this could definitely hide the triplicates…” He continued talking to himself before turning back to me. “Tell you what. You give me the sword and I’ll give you a ship to leave on. I won’t follow you, or any other nycomb’s anymore.”
“But you already have it…” I said, to which he put the sword into my hands.
“I’m no thief,” he responded as if I offended him. “Yes, I could just kill you and take it, but if I’m to be honest, I’ve had enough of that for the time being.”
I considered my options. I was certain that the ‘Abilo’ would take the sword whether I agreed to it or not. It was best to conform to the trade, although I wondered if I could have more out of it. “Would you be able to heal m-” before I could say another word, every burn that was still left on my body instantly healed and feathers grew anew – they were longer and formed a different pattern than before, but I wasn’t going to be picky about that. Even my clothes felt lighter and softer, although that may have only been side effect of all the pain that left my body.
As I looked at my new array of feathers in amazement, the fake nycomb turned around and pointed his cane at a large open area in the center of the park. Light filled the empty space, slowly forming a familiar shape of a light galactic cruiser. “A little big…” I couldn’t help but say.
“It’ll have an autopilot, no need to worry about anything,” He responded as the metal of the ship’s hulk started to form. “You can go look for any other survivors or leave this corner of the galaxy forever. Intergalactic travel not included. I don’t want a second Bernea,” he finished forming the ship and let it drop down to the ground, sinking slightly in the dirt. “I advise you to stay away from Lednah though, in my rage I split the planet in half. Horrible sight. But, I digress… Anything else or are you satisfied with the deal? The ship already has provisions inside of it, not like you need many.”
I didn’t want to simply give up what could be an invaluable tool, so I decided to try and push my luck. “Before I give you the sword, can you at least explain what can possibly justify a crime of these proportions?” I waved at all the burnt bodies and plants
“I said plenty,” he responded, after which he paused, his cane gently lightning up as he eyed me up and down. I started wondering if trying to question him was not a wise idea and he was considering reversing all the healing he had done, when I could hear him speak quietly. “No, nothing… all as it should be.” He raised his sight back onto me, speaking up. “I can see how tragic this looks from your point of view, but this isn’t the end of your kind. I took care of any bigger group I could find – ships, space stations, cities on planets; but that is by no means extensive. I am certain many nycombs are out beyond the reach of my senses, trading goods across the galaxy, or locked away in protected facilities. I was also bound to miss some small mining operations on asteroids, or other places where there wasn’t an immortal to beacon their presence.”
His tone made it impossible to tell if he’s glad of the possibility of some nycombs living through the catastrophe, or if he’s upset he wasn’t able to track us all down. I decided not to dig deeper and instead go for another question while the being was still willing to talk. “And all this because of our Queen breaking a single pact? It seems very extreme.”
To my surprise, he responded with a simple “It is.”
“Yet you still did it?” I asked, stunned.
“Lednah was me being angry at her personally. Closed her in a transparent box in orbit, making her watch the result of her actions. She may have been corrupt, but she still cared for her people, so I hit where it hurt the most.
“The rest? The rest was a message. I don’t want any more beings snooping around, trying to claim star systems for themselves. I’ve heard of a researcher that studies immortals, so I’ll make sure the world knows what being is behind this. Fear always works, and it’s ought to give this place some privacy.”
“Why? Why would you need this sort of isolation?”
He looked at me in silence, his eyes now hidden behind dark energetic lenses. “We wouldn’t want to have to do this again, would we? So it’s best for you to not know. Now,” he paused, hitting his cane against the ground, which made an unexpectedly loud thud, followed by the sound of cracking pavement. “Enough questions. Do you require any more material items or is the ship enough?”
I wanted to know more, but I wasn’t about to negotiate further with someone who casually mentions obliterating entire planets. I silently handed over the sword and in turn a pair of keys materialized in my hand. The small gem inside of the design on the hilt blinked, and it may have been just my imagination, but it felt as if it was the swords way of waving goodbye.
“The abilo took another look at the sword and then disappeared into thin air, leaving me alone, confused, and slightly afraid of what was to come. I’ve spent a few years looking into the sword, seeing if I can find the other ones, but the only traces I could find ended in dead ends. Perhaps there was always only one. Perhaps the Beast found the other ones. Although with its appearance just now I guess neither is true.”
The room was silent for a moment before a voice came from Krestean’s desk “And are you sure it was the same one?”
“I mean, I couldn’t have recognized his form, but the sword was exa-” Monsele paused, realizing that the voice didn’t belong to Krestean, and nobody else should be in the room. Both of them quickly stood up, turning towards its source. A long, thick tail of pink energy was sprawled on Krestean’s desk, its tip hanging outside the edge, allowing it to gently swing back and forth. The tail disappeared behind the desk, only to re-emerge moments after, this time going up by the back of the chair. It was impossible to tell where the tail ended and the abdomen started, with two wing emerging from the back of it, spreading off to the sides. On the same level two arms emerged from the front, crossed in front of the being. The head was lying on its back, leaning against the headrest, which was far too low to support the long body properly.
“No need to be alarmed,” the being said, still looking at the ceiling. “You’ve seen one of us before, haven’t you? The biped reeks of Drakian.”
“You know him?” Krestean impulsively asked before a more important question came to her head. “Who even are you and what are you doing here?”
“Of course I know him, darling,” the being’s arms untangled and the left was now waving dismissively. “We all know most of the other abi- most of the other Type 0’s, as you named us. As to the other questions…” the pink head rose up, pulling it’s lengthy tail-body down from the desk, knocking down a handful of papers spread around as the tail landed on the floor below the entity. “My name is Hiamora,” she introduced herself, right arm on the desk acting as support, left one stretching out as she did a small bow. “I’m investigating what happened back then, looking for the culprit,” she turned towards Monsele “Sadly, your story didn’t help in identifying him, but it did confirm my suspicion that it wasn’t just a blind chaotic attack, and that there is more to this than what’s on the surface.”
“You mean when he mumbled to himself about triplicates?” Monsele asked reluctantly.
“Sharp ear you got there, although you probably remembered it because of how odd it was. But yes. We found two of them, but it seems as if there is one more out there.”
“We?” Krestean asked curiously.
“The others I work with,” Hiamora instantly replied. “There is Shzer-l’amrel, Charles and Tresno. We all took interest in what happened after feeling the disruptions in all corners of the galaxy, arriving to see the destruction done to Lednah. With a combined effort we put the planet together, mainly to protect the Heart, and then set out to look for the culprit,” the Type 0 straightened up before falling back into the chair behind her. “Now my turn to ask questions. What do you two fancy I call you? What are you doing here? And what did you do to the Heart out there?” She pointed at a wall, presumably pointing in a straight line to the market’s power core.
Krestean briefly introduced them and quickly explained everything regarding the market and how it came to be. “I see…” Hiamora responded. “So what’s your connection to Drak, eh? Another unaware du- tri-plicate?”
“I don’t know what those are, but I’m just a normal being that had the luck of stumbling into him some… Sixteen?… centuries ago,” Krestean looked at her tail, swinging it back and forth slightly. “It’s crazy how time flies when you don’t die…”
“Tell me about it. Feels just like yesterday when I first encountered xumvians playing with fire and now they’re building rockets to go to their moons,” she paused standing so still, that were it not for the gentle sway of her wings she could be mistaken for a very strange statue. “I’ll have to talk to Drakian about you, but moving on. Monsele, that’s your name right?” Monsele gave her an affirmative nod “Do you remember the color of light when the other abilo was creating the ship?”
“Well yeah, it was fairly dark for a light, something similar to this,” Monsele lifted up her arm, looking through her feathers before finding one of a specific darker shade of light gray and pointing to it.
“I’m not asking for the shade, I’m asking for the hue.”
“I didn’t see hue back then, I didn’t even know the gem in the sword was cyan until today.”
“Oh…” Hiamora puffed with slight disappointment. ”I guess he was lucky to have the only surviving immortal to also be colorblind.”
“A little, perhaps,” Monsele responded, scratching her head as she wondered if that was one of the reasons she was allowed to leave and live. “Most nycombian energy users given themselves color vision after becoming knowledgeable enough, at the time I was still a newcomer though.”
“Most? Are you saying-” Hiamora paused, leaning over the desk to get a closer look at Monsele’s arms. “That… makes so much sense. I was always bothered by your lack of color, but that explains it. How is it not stated clearly anywhere?”
“We didn’t know other species saw color until we started trading, and we never adapted our education system,” Monsele paused, thinking about how the Beast didn’t want to be identified by any means. “Do you think this is why we were attacked? Because we couldn’t recognize the attacker as long as we didn’t see his full true form?”
Hiamora slowly nodded “It is likely, yes. Exactly what I was thinking in fact, but it wouldn’t be the only reason. I need to report back to the others.” Without a word her solid form begun to soften, vaporizing into a shaped cloud of pink energy before dissipating.
“You know, we should really teach them some manners,” Krestean said, picking up the papers that dropped to the floor.