“I think I see it,” Monsele said as she stared out the window. From the deep black of the starry void, a small blue and green marble started growing into view. “Pretty looking… Reminds me of Earth.”
“You’ve been to Earth too?” Charles asked in surprise. “Used to be such a nice place when I found it two centuries ago.”
“Used to be?”
“Yeah, it changed a lot in the past few decades… When was last time you were there?”
Monsele thought about it for a while, trying to come up with a precise date. “A little over a century ago I think…” She looked over at Krestean in hopes of some help, but her friend was too busy with the manual control of the ship, making sure they could stop before reaching their goal, not wanting to rely on systems that didn’t know the planet existed in the first place.
“Then you just barely missed it. The humans killed most of themselves 90-100 years ago. The few that remained asked the Galactic Council for help in fixing their world.”
“And you left to not risk getting captured?” Monsele asked as she watched Threa come into view. Through the still clouds she could see long stretches of green, cut into pieces by blue rivers and gray mountains. With deserts of ice at the poles, and deserts of sand near its tropics, and dense dark greens near the equators.
“More so I lost my audience. Nowhere in the Milky Way is really safe for abilno’s. Those of us who stick around choose to do so despite the possibility of getting captured.”
“Wait, but if the Council went to Earth…” Krestean turned around as she stopped the ship in the planets orbit. “Doesn’t that put Drakian at risk? He can’t leave like you.”
“<span style=”font-family: cursive;”>I am fine,</span>” Drakian said as his amber form manifested besides Charles. “<span style=”font-family: cursive;”>The whole fiasco is my fault anyway,</span>” he added as he walked over to the window.
“You’re smaller than I remember,” Monsele said as the dragon passed by her, his head lower than her waist. “Is something wrong?”
“I cannot change sizes as I travel out and in to the universe in a solid form. And I must use the solid form for these to work,” he lifted his wing and bent it so that its tip would touch the purple circles in his sides. “I did not know how big your ship is, hence I went with a smaller shape to make sure I will not break anything.”
“Smart,” Krestean spoke as the dragon sat down next to her. “And adorable,” she added, petting Drakian on the head, getting a chuckle out of Monsele as she did.
“Those purple spots, are they made by… What’s her name… Bast? Haven’t had a chance to ask you to show me during my stay on Earth.” Charles’ form morphed into a cloud that floated closer to Drakian, before falling back in on itself to create a miniature version of the lime Type 0. His spherical body was the size of the purple patches on the dragon, with his tentacles stretching out to touch the perimeter where purple changed to amber. “So, were we right?”
The dragon turned his head towards Charles. “Yes,” he said, moving his wing in-between them, forcing the lime abilno away so that he could sit down. “We are analyzing the artifact for a way to reverse the lock,” he said after a silent moment spent on watching the immobile planet before them. “No luck so far, but it was indeed an artifact. Although archtool is a better name I guess.”
The lime sphere floated up a bit, increasing in size in the same manner as it decreased before. “That’s a quick change of topic. Do you not want-”
“No.” Drakian silenced the lime abilno “We will manage for ourselves.”
“Uhm, I hate to interrupt,” Monsele spoke as she observed Threa. “you mentioned this is an anomalous planet, but not why.”
“Do you not see it now?” Charles asked, moving off to the side to clear the view of the planet.
“I’m… not sure what I’m supposed to be looking at…” Monsele took a step towards the glass, trying to spot what was off about the static world below. “It’s… not moving? But it is? I can see the swirls in the clouds but… they’re frozen?”
“You hit the nail on the head. These planets have an erratic rotation pattern when viewed from outer space. But it is unnoticeable from the inside.”
“But how can that be?” Krestean asked as she watched the planet slowly come to life, with land moving below the clouds, and clouds moving of their own volition.
“There is a barrier around it beyond which time flows at a different rate. It’s a similar effect as when you’re moving at high speeds, but limited to this location.” Charles paused to watch the planet rotate at a snail’s pace. “If you’re asking about how that barrier was made, no idea. But I suggest entering it now while it moves slowly. Entering when it’s spinning out of control isn’t safe for mortal ships.”
Krestean nodded and took over the controls, taking the ship down towards Threa. After getting near the upper atmosphere, there was a small bump as if something hit the front of the ship, followed shortly by another one on the back. In the blink of an eye, the clouds accelerated to more natural speeds, as did the waves in the ocean far below them.
“Because the barrier naturally blocks most mortals from visiting, we decided our archtool vault- I mean, what Tresno called a library, is safe…” Charles went silent as Krestean and Monsele gave him a look of curiosity, mixed with confusion. “Drakian, lead them to the copy that you must sense already. I’ll go before I say too much,” he waved his tentacles goodbye as he vanished into a puff of lime smoke.
“What just happened?” Monsele asked looking down at Drakian in hopes of him explaining the situation. “And where did your purple spots go?” She asked, noticing the lack of discoloration on the dragon.
“They disappeared when we entered the planet,” he said, his solid form shifting into an energetic cloud, before returning back to being solid – larger than before, his head now on eye level with the immortals. “The lock seems to be unable to penetrate through the barrier around this place. But if I suddenly disappear, then just wait for me to come back.”
Krestean nodded as she handed ships controls over to the dragon. “You’re a natural at flying, or so you said. Lead the way.” The dragon turned his head to look at her, and even though his solid form had no facial features, she got a sense he’d have been grinning if he had facial features.
“So…” Monsele started as she watched the dragon stand still in front of the console, while the controls seemingly moving on their own. “Can you explain why Charles left all of the sudden?”
“He said why already: He does not want to spill any more secrets they have,” Drakian said casually, bringing the ship into supersonic speeds as they flew across the planet. Taking the silence as an invitation, he decided to explain more. “The language we speak. Or rather, what you perceive as a language. It is no language of its own. Try and repeat anything you hear me say. Do not worry about proper pronunciation, just try and replicate the words themselves.”
Monsele opened her beak to try and speak, then closed it in surprise, before opening it again. “I… I can’t focus on any of the words you just said… I can hear them clearly as a whole but… how can that be?”
“You see, we do not actually speak our language. In fact, there is no such thing as a ‘Type 0 language’ or speech,” Drakian sat down, letting Krestean take care of the landing. “This has its pros and cons of course. Mainly that anyone can understand us, but we do not know what anyone actually hears.”
Monsele glanced over at Krestean, who has slowed down the ship and was aiming it for a large nearby meadow. “Does this not surprise you?”
“It did, yes. Drakian had to explain it on two separate occasions back when we were making the Market,” she paused to focus on the controls, forcing the ship into a downwards motion. “But when you think about it, it makes sense. We already have hundreds of thousands of languages across our own galaxy, and they,” she pointed at the dragon, “supposedly travel across entirety of the Universe. That’s an unimaginable number of languages. To learn them all would be an impossible feat.
“But there is something every living being has in common – everyone has some level of energy inside of them. Energy that Drakian and the other 0’s are literally made out of. It’s much more convenient to contact other beings via that energy, since it’s how they learned to contact each other at the beginning and it just so happened to work on ‘beings of lesser energies’. Did I remember everything correctly, Drak?”
The dragon nodded, waiting for the ship to land on the soft ground before continuing his explanation. “Think of it as audible thoughts,” he said, pushing the button to open the back of the ship, letting the trio out. “Everyone thinks in the same manner, but with different individual perception of the thoughts.” They stepped out onto the lush green grass, taking a look across the environment before closing the ship and heading towards the rising sun. “Think about the flora around us. When you see it in your mind, you do not need to know its name, taste or smell. You care about portraying a visual message, and that is what your thoughts will focus on. It may be by words describing the long grass and tall trees, or it may simply be an image of the plant itself.
“But if you try and speak about something from the past, a memory, that is when it gets complicated. When we speak there is an involuntary, one-way connection between the speaker and the listener. And while it has its benefits, it is also problematic. What you think you hear are, quite literally, our thoughts that we allow you to hear. And since we do not have a distinction between brain and mind like biological beings do, our memories are intertwined with our thoughts, making it trivial to accidentally share information on something we would not want the listener to know.”
“But if it’s just a matter of energy manipulation,” Monsele started, processing the information shared with her, “doesn’t that mean anyone could speak like you?”
“Indeed, however it is nigh impossible for a biological being to come up with the process on their own, much less master it without the help of an abilno.”
“But it’s not impossible, so technically you could teach us?” Monsele asked curiously, simultaneously pointing at a curved line cutting through the thick grass.
“We did try after Drak explained it the second time. It’s harder than it sounds,” Krestean said as they walked towards what they could now see was an unpaved road, with two parallel dents in the ground for wheels, and a strip of short grass in-between. “So this place does have a civilization of sorts. I wonder how advanced.”
“Not very,” Drakian said, pointing at the hoof prints in the dirt. “They do not have autonomous machinery by the looks of it. And I did not see many large or modern cities on the way here.”
“And the ones you did see?” Monsele asked as she compared the size of her own hooves with the ones imprinted in the ground.
“Stone and wood villages.”
“Let’s not waste time thinking about the locals and instead go look for that abilno,” Krestean said, walking a few steps down the road before stopping. “I am going the right way, right?”
“More or less,” Drakian responded, taking the lead again. “My guess is that the road will curve right and take us to our goal.”
After a short stroll they reached a crossroad, taking the right path. It was paved with smooth cobblestone, leading them between large fields where long, yellow and green crops were growing on either side. “Why didn’t we land closer?” Krestean asked curiously, seeing plenty of good landing spots.
“The nice answer would be that I did not want to ruin the locals livelihoods,” Drakian spoke as he looked around. “But reality is much more worrying – I am not certain where precisely the abilno is. This, in case you cannot tell, is not normal,” he went silent for a moment as they walked down the empty road, the distant city nearing with every step. “I can tell you exactly where Charles is,” he used his wing to point down at an angle to the ground, “but I cannot tell you the precise location of this one. In fact, I am not even certain anymore if they are straight ahead, or even more to the east…”
They continued in an uneasy silence, until reaching the large, wooden city gate, at which point a sharp metal spike appeared in front of the dragon. “Halt, monsters!”
“Oh great, I forgot the translator,” Krestean said as Monsele looked at Drakian, and then back at the human guard in front of them. He was slightly shorter than Krestean, covered head to foot with metal armor. In his left hand he held a halberd, steadily outstretched towards the dragon, while the other had a tight grip at a stick-like tool with metallic lines going across its sides.
“We mean no harm,” Monsele spoke, raising her arms slightly.
“How do you-” Krestean started, getting interrupted by Drakian
“It is one of Earth’s most common languages, English.” he answered the questions he meant to ask. He told us to stop, and called us monsters, he added telepathically, not to confuse the human.
“We’re here, looking for…” Monsele started speaking again, before realizing they have no idea how the abilno they were looking for will look. “For… someone who is extremely powerful…”
“The King is unavailable, and second in command-” The man’s words were deafened by a loud swish of air, followed by a heavy thud as a young human flew in from their left and landed by the guard. She wore a gray robe and carried a large sculpted wooden pole, nearly as tall as herself.
“Who are you?” She asked as she scanned the unusual group for potential threats.
“That’s not important. But we’re looking for someone who may be dangerous, is powerful and most likely in the city somewhere.”
“Anything powerful can be dangerous, doesn’t mean it is,” the woman spoke, waving the guard away. “And besides, the most powerful person in our city has disappeared a while ago, so you’re out of luck.”
“On the contrary, we are quite certain that whoever it is, they are in the perimeter right now,” Drakian spoke up scanning the stone wall around the city. “That is about as close of an estimate as I can give, sadly.”
“I’d say it’s quite enough,” a disembodied voice spoke. In front of the main gate a gray cloud started to condense, taking form of a humanoid, with two enormous, seemingly feathered, wings coming out of its back. “It’s been a while since someone last visited.”
“And I am afraid we are not here for a casual talk either.”
“Wait, you’re looking for him?” The human asked Monsele, taking a step closer to her while looking at the being by the gate. “What do you need from our guardian angel?”
“A literal guardian angel. He looks like an angel, and he guards our city from threats. I thought he’s just an embodiment of some ancient protection spell…”
“I always found that connotation funny, but I am much more than you think,” the angels ghostly shape started to fall back on itself, darkening and solidifying into what could easily be mistaken for a statue made of flowing stone, had it not been for the gentle light emanating from the being. “You’re free to go, Claire. In fact, I insist you go inside. You have to prepare for a trip, don’t you?”
“How-” the human started, but decided to keep her questions to herself. “Yes, sir,” she said, heading off into the city.
“So, what brings such an intricate trio to my doorstep?”
“What do you know about the swords locked by the star?”
Monsele and Krestean shared a look of surprise. “The shade of gray is close if not identical to the Beast,” the former whispered. After a second of thought, she spoke up with a question. “Have you ever been in possession of one of the swords of Gwi’rnul?”
“Monsele, I have been in possession of thousands if not millions of swords over the eons. It’s possible one of them would be previously owned by this “Gwi’rnul”, but how could I know?”
“They are no ordinary swords,” Drakian explained, a pair of swords appearing in front of him. One looked more or less normally, save for the symbols etched into its hilt, while the other was the exact replica of the one they saw in the Market. “They look unusual, are extremely powerful, and the one on the left was once held by… some abilno that Monsele here calls ‘The Beast’. We are trying to find out who that is.”
“I have not seen either of these ever before,” the angel said, much to the dismay of the group. “I have, however, seen these,” he raised his hand and above it appeared two swords. Ones hilt was decorated by patterns spiraling up, then splitting to form the guard, while the others guard and hilt were reminiscent of rough flames, save for a smoother area for a wielder to grip the sword. Both had a cyan gem where the blade met the hilt, sitting in the center of a symbol: An “X” made out of wave-like lines, and one that was made out of rounded triangles, forming a star-like shape, respectively.
“They caused me a great deal of trouble, but I lost them after the split. It is possible that the other me continued to seek more after seeing their potential…”
“A split? What do you mean?”
“Are you not aware of the machine near Earth’s core?” The angel folded his wings in surprise. “Wasn’t that the sole reason Archike was there? I thought you two were close?”
“We were…” Drakian dug the ground with his claws slightly. “We never figured out how to operate it. I gave up on it and went to other worlds. I have not seen Archike in thousands of years.”
“I see. Well they did figure out how it works and, aside of me, I believe may be the only abilno to go through the procedure.”
“If I could interrupt you two for a moment,” Krestean spoke up, walking up to the two Type 0’s, “Monsele and I have no idea what you’re talking about. Could one of you explain it quickly so we’re all caught up?”
“With pleasure,” the angel sat down on a humble wooden stool that suddenly appeared behind him. “With all due respect Drakian, I feel like I know more on the matter.” The dragon nodded and sat down on the ground himself. “Since you have heard of the swords, I assume you’re no strangers to those ancient devices,” he said, pausing to make sure his assumption wasn’t incorrect. “Well, not all are hand-held,” he continued after the two immortals nodded. “Some are gigantic, as is the case with the one hidden deep within Earth’s crust.
“I don’t know how Archike got it to work, but it requires a massive amount of energy. In my case I used this sword,” he pointed to the still hovering sword with spiraling patterns, “in conjunction with my own energy, it was enough to activate the ancient machinery. Curiosity got a hold of me, and by the time I started having doubts, it was too late.
“The goal of the machine, as far as I can tell, is to ‘purify’ abilno’s. Cutting their excess energy to create a specific form. I cannot tell you, however, which form is desired, because the byproducts of the process reform back into a form of their own, so you end up with three variants of a single being. Originally I thought I was meant to be the output, since I held all of my memories, but it turns out this worlds copy of Archike doesn’t remember a thing.”
“What do you mean by ‘this worlds’?” Monsele asked curiously.
“I was getting to that. The machine on Earth, it’s somehow connected to this place, and one more as far as I can tell. Shortly after splitting I got transported here, and have had trouble leaving ever since. I managed to pull some strings and bring the version of me that stayed on Earth into this place. Turns out that he’s free to roam the universe, unlike myself. I think he was even in the market of yours at one point. Sadly, he’s been gone for a while now.”
“This is a confusing system…” Krestean murmured, picking up the sword that resembled a flame. “What happened to the swords? Are they still by the machine?”
“No. And nobody has since been in there, so the only option is that they went with the third version of me. But I have no idea where that could’ve went. Although given how this planet eerily resembles Earth – both in size and composition – I’d imagine the third one would too. If they’re still on it, that is.”
“The other anomalous planet,” Krestean spoke under her breath, to which Monsele nodded. “It would make a greatly protected home, so even if he could leave I’d imagine he could stay there, just as Hiamora and the rest did here…”
“Drakian, can you take us to Charles?” Monsele asked, turning away from the angel.
“No,” he responded. “He would not appreciate me leading you to him.”
“Hiamora should also know the-” Krestean started, only to get cut off by the gray abilno.
“I advise against looking for the third copy of mine. He may pretend to be kind, but judging by Archike’s copies, he will have short temper and destructive tendencies.”
Monsele and Krestean looked at each other in unison, “I think we should head back,” the former started. “Thank you for the help…” she paused, realizing the angel never introduced himself.
“There isn’t a need to share my name, is there? Good luck on your travels,” he declared, after which his form dissolved into thin air.
Seeing that, Drakian turned around and headed back. “We will not be able to talk with him if he does not want to. No point in staying.”
Monsele waited until the city disappeared from view before speaking up. “Dark gray energy, has wings, has knowledge and is in possession of artifacts – he fits the bill perfectly. Could it be we found the Beast?”
“It’s not impossible…”
“Everything else would fit too. How he’d want to protect other versions of himself. He could use one of those swords to get all the energy to fuel his conquest, and he instantly knew how to activate the one I gave him. Even short temper part fits. And don’t you find it weird that he didn’t want to share his name?”
“The name is Raphael, and that is normal behavior for him,” Drakian said as they went off the path and towards the meadow they landed on. “I have to leave you now,” he said after they reached their ship.
“What? Why?” Krestean asked in surprise, pausing mid-way through unlocking the opening hatch.
“I will first go to Charles, tell him you need directions. Secondly, I doubt that the protection Horus made for me will reappear when we leave the planet. Nor will I be cured of this curse.”
“But we will need you!” Krestean insisted.
“You will have Hiamora and Charles. Perhaps the other two. That is more than enough. But if you need help, you know where to find me.” The dragon started to hover above the ground, ready to fly off, when Monsele raised her hand.
“Wait! Can you tell him to come to us? He should be able to sense us, and this way he can lead us directly to the place.”
Drakian looked down at the nycomb, consumed by thought. After a long moment he nodded. “I will, but do give me time to talk with him,” having said that, he was gone in the blink of an eye, with only the swaying trees indicating the direction he went.
“Shall we wait in orbit?” Krestean asked, finishing the pass-code to open the ship.
“Better not. It shouldn’t take long on the surface, but we have no idea how the time in the outside world compares.” Monsele responded, heading into the ship.
“Ah, right,” Krestean said as she followed. Waiting for the abilno to show up, they decided to make up a plan on what they want to do if they actually find the one responsible for Neastia’s downfall. The sun was already starting to set by the time the ship lit up with Charles’ lime light. “Geez, what took you so long?”
“It wasn’t that long,” the abilno started as Monsele took to the controls to lift the ship off the ground. “I needed to finish something, in case whoever stole the sword from us would show up again.”
“I see. Did Drakian tell you everything?” Krestean asked, sitting down in a chair.
“I think so. You need directions, right?”
“Even coordinates would do, but Drakian is right in that it’s probably safer to take one of you with us.” The ship shook slightly as they passed the barrier in the atmosphere, leaving behind a rapidly spinning planet. “Or maybe more than just you…”
“I don’t think Tresno will be happy. In fact, I’ll go get Hiamora for the sole reason to have her tell you the location.”
“Okay, we will wait here then,”
“I can tell you it’s closer to your market than it is to here,” Charles flew over to the window, watching the planet below them. “Wait for us there, it won’t take long,” he said as he vanished with a pop.
“This will take another few hours, won’t it?” Monsele asked as she put in the coordinates of the market to the ship.
“Likely,” Krestean said with a sigh, “Let’s tell General Irikla what to do in case something happens to us.” Monsele looked at Krestean with a worried glare, but after a moment of consideration silently nodded and engaged the FTL engines.