This Episode is chronologically AFTER the AMT Starter Stories.
Clouds blotted the light violet sky. Storms raged in the far distance, drowning the silence in the echoes of violent thunderclaps. The storms had passed. Rocky soil lie damp with fresh rain. The heat of the ground steamed with what I could only call a “summer’s” mist. The world itself held the pressure and blaze of a screaming kettle.
The clouds ahead of me dragged behind—tearing over the skies above a metallic complex fenced by drab concrete walls and watchtowers.
The blinking red and blue lights around the complex barely escaped the spoonable fog. But my eyes still caught their strangled blinks as the final whimpers of a decaying power source.
Perhaps more rain was to fall. But what was I to do? The past worlds I’d traveled through were a whirlwind. I’d been confronted by ancient, primordial enemies I did not even realize hunted me. I needed to leave that—leave them—behind, now. Just like the rain.
Yet just as the rain steamed to mist and hovered in the air, choking clean breaths with musk, the past always tickled in memory. Those I’d faced had followed me, before. Was I truly free of them? Had Peridot disconnected us for real?
Or was it all just fog. . .
Lingering, loitering, lounging in the recesses of the mind. Or even reality.
“Opaline,” said the wicked voice of an old friend. She snapped me free of my thoughts. Behind me hovered a human sort-of woman clad in blackened robes, bald bone-white white skull adorned in dozens of keyhole shaped tattoos. Her eyes—swallowed in red—softened when they gazed upon me. “This place is devoid.”
My spine shivered as my eyes glanced over the station. “I went inside. Couldn’t stay.” I shrugged, “Eerie in there.”
“My presence eases your mind?”
“You could say that.”
She did not laugh. Perhaps it was not meant to be funny, even if I found it humorous. I did call upon her in our Agglomerate way—a sort of prayer, or wanting. I had not seen her for some time, but the moment I stepped into that station, she was the first person I thought of.
Her enormous dark presence floated idly past me. As if the empty solitude of this structure called out to her in a language only the lonely truly understood. Sometimes, when I pondered my loneliness, she came to mind. She’d been alone for countless millennia. Such isolated introspection could be considered madness.
What was my time compared to hers?
“Will you stay here in the wake of the storm?” she said.
“I’ll come.” I followed her to the walls.
The installation appeared to be some sort of military structure. Large walls, defensive posture, a metallic gate once proud and now decimated. She did not touch the gate as it lie in a folded, mangled scrap of steel. I climbed over it.
Her eyes did not study as one would think. Our Agglomerate kind became beyond senses of the physicality. Her hands remained at her waist, but her fingers were signing in a language even more mysterious than the whispers of solitude. Her hands called upon her power, and her soul oversaw her investigation.
When we came to the bloodied port, she halted.
“The edge cannot close,” she said, “the door had been mutilated.”
“Yes. It was open when I arrived.” I stepped before her, and gently tapped the metal port open. The keypad and lighting flickered, bleeding power from the mangled wiring underneath.
“This facility was entirely airlocked.” She set her jaw, “It explains the lack of bodies outside. There was a deep flight response but none left the nest. Prey entirely held down by this atmosphere’s toxicity to their lungs.” She eyed me, “They were aliens. Colonists to this place.”
Threshold floated through the wall like a phantom, and I stepped into the door. A single white tube-light ran down the middle of the cylindrical ceiling. A blood splatter stained the light crimson, and flickered across the steel-grey walls.
No body to the blood.
“They died slow,” she whispered to me. Her hands continued their signs, feeding her mind with the words of the walls. This place told its story to her. She recited that story to me as the heavy keychains draped around her neck glowed gold. Each key a story. Each capable of unlocking countless horrors. “A methodical dismemberment. Predatory and exact, by the precision of a creature beyond the word animal or beast.”
We came to the end of the hall and my mind wandered with possibility. Despite all I’d seen in my travels, there was always more out there. More joy. More sorrow. More hatred. More love. More kindness. More cruelty.
Cruelty loomed over these halls.
The hall ended with a perpendicular path in two directions. Blood smeared over the section. A bit of unidentifiable flesh piled into the corner. Threshold acknowledged the pulp, “A bit of a leg.”
She spoke as if showing me her garden tomatoes.
“How vivid is it? When you see?” I said.
“I see everything as the walls did. Every action, scent, scream. Perfect recreations. Memories without the lies. . . and mortals lie a lot.” Her red eyes bled in memory, “Mortals tell themselves all sorts of little anecdotes, excuses, justifications. Or we forge entire new realities hidden behind our eyes—protective thoughts to help us cope with what we’ve done, seen, heard. . . but places do not lie. Moments are as immortal as you and I, Opaline, and when they speak—they speak the truth.”
“Truths that you arbitrate?”
She did not answer, instead turning away to continue on her path of recollection.
“I don’t mean to offend. I’m only curious.”
“You do not offend me. I see your stance. I am a person. Therefore I have perspective. My truth is merely and interpretation of what I see, and not what I see. I understand.” Her jaw set, and I could see the ripple of muscle beneath her cheek. Sometimes it was something so simple as that to remind me that she was, once, a woman, and not this liminal being. “Existence is all truths of different kinds. Interpretation itself could be truth, perhaps. But there is not one truth. I see what I see. I act as I act. The walls speak to occurrence, and I lay my justice according to what I see.”
“I think I do something similar. I try to help whoever I can according to my values, and my beliefs, but ultimately that’s simply how I act. It is my intention of good, and not always good itself.” I set my head down, hesitant to ask.
“Ask.” She smiled, showing that mortality once again. “I feel your mind racing, your shoulders slouching. That nervous tick in your eye, toes, and finger. Your blood pumps faster and your neurons fire like lighting in the storm. Your toe twitches sideways. . . funny. What scares you, my friend? This creature is surely below your threshold of fright,” she motioned to the bloodied hallway and flesh pulp, “perhaps I am not reverent enough of the dead.”
I smiled at her attempt at humor, which was, I admit, darkly funny.
“You are the most reverent person I’ve ever met with the dead,” I said, “you’re allowed to make jokes. All perspective, after all.”
“What scares you, then?”
“Can you do it to people?” I said. “I can use all sorts of magic—sorcery, where I am from—and beyond. I’ve dabbled in all sorts of Creation from all sorts of worlds. Your power is so different. Personal. I wondered if it was a collection of abilities developed over time, a spiritual part of your soul taking shape this way, or simply how you were born. And then, as I pondered that thought, I imagined Porb. He can paint anything into existence. He chooses animals. He loves animals, and Agglomeration sort of forces him into that line of thinking. Then I thought, if he can do so much more than he actually does, then surely Threshold can.”
“I can read a journal and watch the hand who wrote it. I can follow a scent’s particulates to its origin. I have heard voices so vibrant that their faces and bodies came alive, to me. I can walk worlds by hearing their names. I can see lives with a simple mention of a person long gone.” She knelt in front of me, and ran her finger through my fur like a mother’s touch, “I can see the memories of all that I wish to see. But I am not so foolish to bow to my potential and that illimitable something. For eventually, everything and nothing are one and the same. I prefer to be grounded. I have choices. My mind craves solace? Then I forget all that I see, and move onto the next. Memories flow from me like passing rain. My collection,” she grasped her keychains, and the hundreds of interdimensional chambers she’d accumulated over her Existence, “is all that remains. I shall deal justice to those that I can rather than horde the crimes of all worlds in their eternal suffering.”
I was reminded of what Malabeenith—Myth—said many worlds ago, of how each Agglomerate was practicality a god limited merely by Peridot’s Curse and her divine effect on them. And I briefly saw myself standing in the shadow of my own statue, countless lifetimes from now, and wondered if I’d be like this some day.
“Do not worry,” she said, red eyes locked to mine, “some day you will choose, too. And I will be there.” The keyholes on her forehead glowed. Her hands vibrated with her runic magic, “You are nervous, still.”
“We should find this thing, first.”
“If you wish to procrastinate your question, I am not opposed.”
I didn’t acknowledge that, though I do believe it was meant in humor. I was glad she felt comfortable to joke with me. The first few times we’d met, things felt different. Now we’d ventured together. We’d fought side by side. We’d conversed as friends. It was then that I realized we were friends—real, true friends—and that my loneliness had been assuaged.
We dove deeper through the station. And more bits of bodies came into view. Blood covered the walls. Blinking lights reflected the horrors back to us. But while my mind strode into frightful visions of what possibly occurred, Threshold watched it all unfold. Again, and again, and again.
Was this what grounded her?
Instead of facing the grand possibility of her vision and power, she stared down the sorrow and pain of endless loss?
Where did that come from? That drive for her justice? So far in her past, there were the psychological, spiritual, physical, and magical seeds for the person—or entity—which she was in that moment with me. What was her truth What was the truth?
What would walls whisper of her?
Chills ran up my spine. My fur stood. We turned a corner, and the munching, crunching, slurping of a meal much enjoyed echoed in a whining whimper. Ten meters down the hall, hunched beside a pile of pulp, a humanoid gargled down a grey looking leg.
The creature’s back muscles greatly overpowered its puny legs. A hulking mass of a jaw unhinged to devour a torso in one bite. The creature’s stomach seemed ready to burst. But as he ate, the blond-haired creature’s two cannonball sized eyes burned a bright green.
The green shine and bloodied face created a wicked, hexing image.
The creature peeked behind as Threshold’s heels clicked against the floor. She landed and summoned her scythe. Eyes ignited, the creature’s ratty yellow hair had been matted with blood and guts. It turned to face us, thick upper arms taller than I was.
Hunched like a cross between a charging bull and a behemoth frog, the monster stood two meters tall. Fully erect, he never could fit in the station’s hallways.
The creature charged.
I was prepared to watch the room spin out of reality, and see Threshold bind the very chamber and all its terror to her skin. But she didn’t bind anything. In fact, after a blink, the creature lie in three very neatly sliced pieces on the floor. Fresh cuts added to the carnage.
As Threshold floated by the body (and the bodies spilling from its stomach), the flesh charred to ashes and the ashes to dust. “Shall we?” She motioned to the exit. I followed.
Outside, the clouds approached again. Rain tickled the soil, and dotted the metallic structure and walls.
“You didn’t take it,” I said. “You always collect rooms, don’t you? And torture those who wronged the victims?”
“That thing was a native,” she eyed the far mountains, “many kilometers that way, is a village. That village sent scouts to this colony. Those scouts were abducted and experimented on for weeks.” Threshold ran her fingers along the gate as we left, “They thought injecting a serum into the natives could help create a work force able to live in these atmospheric conditions. The natives, naturally, did not agree. My work was done for me. That thing was a person, once, and decided to take its revenge.”
“You still killed it, though.”
“Better to end the cycle.” She shook her head, “Badgaroom’s Home for the Sacrificed by Candlelight, remember?”
I rummaged through my pack, and donned the souvenir hat from Badgaroom’s gift shop. I adjusted the brim in answer.
“Some may say that those families made hard choices. That they should be allowed to live. I slaughtered them in cold blood, and force them to relive their shame each moment of the rest of my Existence. It is compulsory for me to end suffering. It is not always clean.”
“I still have some of her tea.”
For a moment, her eyes softened of all their pain, and I swear the twinkle of gaiety gleamed in there, somewhere. A good, proud, satisfying memory. Nostalgic—special.
Threshold twisted her hand, and a small tea bar appeared before us. No walls or roof. But a working kettle and stools to sit. “Walls?”
“I like the atmosphere,” I said, smiling as the rain receded once again. She kept the walls down, and left the rest for us to enjoy. We made tea—not with magic, but the natural way. And we drank for a day, reminiscing on old stories from our Agglomerate lives. Most were melancholic. But that was the way, I suppose.
“Will you ask me, now?” She said, slouching onto the bar, sliding into a posture only real, living people can have. Her eyes lightened to a pink. I found that comforting. “No need to fear. Ask, whatever it is.”
“May I know your name?” I said. Threshold was as strange as calling me Ratman. I knew her name—Myth had spoken it to me—but she did not need to know that. I wanted her to tell me. I wanted her to feel safe with my knowing.
“I wish I could tell you. But I don’t remember.”
“You can remember anything.”
Her eyes hardened to red. She sat proper in her seat.
I would never ask her that question again.