This EPISODE is PART FIVE of SIX.
In the shadow of the looming power plant alight in blues and whites and reds, a silver spec danced in illuminating brilliance. I took a spyglass from my Boundless Bag as the other Agglomerates—including the titan that was Carna Cadava—moved in behind me. They and their mighty powers could confirm what I already knew, and what my eye upon the lens of that spyglass made certain—that the thirty-seventh Agglomerate engaged against a dire foe. A foe who shifted from a charging pachyderm to a soaring roc, from a roc to a rolling shelled beast, from that beast to the gaping mouth of a serpent.
Goyath’s wretched screams barreled through the living darkness. His magicality burst against Cryptal Vispar, mortal power now ascended in the lengthy process of accepting immortality. Goyath was an Agglomerate, yes, but still an egg of what I was or especially my kin. He was younger in his world walking than I had been when we came into That Time.
Perhaps Vispar could kill him. . .
None of us knew the rules of this Curse. We believed ourselves unable to die, yet even great gods can be destroyed. Goyath had youth. His soul, tethered to Peridot, would remain, but could his body die at Vispar’s fangs?
“Porb, that’s Goyath,” I reached out a hand.
He grabbed me. We were off.
Teleported into a dust cloud.
Blue smoke burst from the impact of Cryptal Vispar’s tail as she barreled into the ground. I rolled from her strike, narrowly avoiding her eclectic scales of fur, and horn, and flesh, and bone. The rolling coils of her muscled serpentine body writhed. Which way was the head?
Dust sucked into the vacuum of Vispar’s transformation. Her body disappeared into nothingness. Somewhere in the dust, she’d become a different animal.
Where was Porbiyo?
I channeled Force and forced the dust to become grounded again. Cloud dispersed, my eyes locked onto the crimson red eyes of the warlord Goyath. He did not see me but I saw him. The enormous emu loomed above me, some twenty meters away, wings extended against where Vispar would have been fighting him. But the snake transformed.
A six-armed blue cyclopean ape took the snake’s place and beat her chest at Goyath. The serpent’s fangs turned to tusks and locked onto the emu warlord across the field. The ape’s eyes ringed in rainbow hypnotism. Her psychedelic hypnosis reflected from Goyath’s polished bayonet feathers.
Bayonet feathers extended in fury, Goyath’s red eyes seared brighter than Vispar’s pulsing ones. He tore free of the tusks, swept himself several meters into the air, and grasped Vispar in his razor talons. Blood poured from the wounds and stained Goyath’s steel hide.
The shrieks of the bird and bellows of the ape exchanged as quick as their blows. Goyath’s wings shredded into the ape’s skin. Blood burst. Fists pummeled the metal wall, torn to bone by the razor feathers. Goyath dug his wings into Vispar’s chest and ripped outwards, pinning Vispar’s body to the ground.
Goyath screeched. His red eyes drowned Vispar’s hypnotizing luminescence. His voice bounded off the ape’s chest and cracked the ground beneath their quarrel. Goyath’s voice—the weapon through which he slew gods and united an entire race—exploded in desperation. I flew backwards and slammed into the side of the crater.
He was remarkably powerful. Most of us Agglomerates were regular folk when we were sucked into the Curse. Regular would be an insult to Goyath.
The crater extended forty meters in any which direction.
As I caught my bearings and rose, Vispar transformed.
A songbird red as flame appeared, wings bioluminescent in golden light. Vispar’s bird form zipped around the enormous emu, too small and swift to be caught in the bayonet feathers, and shot little balls of fire against the thirty-seventh Agglomerate.
Goyath struck in spirals with his razor wings.
Vispar transformed into an antlered rodent large as a horse. She coiled into a armored sphere. Between dodging and ducking, she charged Goyath with her spinning horns. Just as Goyath studied her rhythms enough to smash his wing into her body, she transformed again.
The snake reformed her true self in the crater Goyath’s sonic power pounded to the earth. Dust flung into the air from their battle, and her head slithered twenty meters into the air. Scales of a thousand kinds of skin, she flashed as a rainbow from such a distance.
One eye pulsated in rainbow symphony.
The eye appeared scarred, greyed.
I climbed to the edge of Goyath’s forty meter crater. Such enormous might to carve such a thing. Scarf blaring behind me in the wind their battle forged, I drew my starspear and marched into the center. No reason to run. Could trip up, make a mistake. Patience, here.
Vispar’s eye caught sight of me in Goyath’s shadow. He’d been too focused on the war at hand to notice me.
For a flash, her hypnosis ended, and her eye of a thousand hues faded to fear.
I’d hurt her. My stonefire injured her, crippling that other eye. It seemed to be healing, now. But I had hurt her, and terribly so considering how long it had been since our last battle.
Was I gaining power in this immortal life? What else could explain that injury. I’d never injured an Agglomerate before. Polly, Venefica. . . they’d greatly outmatched me. The Vicar, even in that sleepy state, held off Threshold and I and escaped from Threshold’s prison.
I still wondered what happened to Polly and the Vicar.
Could Agglomerates kill one another? Was that sort of power possible? Had they dueled until one’s soul gave in? How did these levels of magic and ability work between beings trapped in the Liminal Curse of a Dragon like Peridot?
In Vispar’s eye, I saw some answers to my wandering mind.
Perhaps we could hurt one another. Perhaps we could even scar one another. Perhaps, even kill.
Goyath stepped back from Vispar in notice of her stalled gaze.
“Oh my, oh my,” Porb hovered above Goyath, eyes level with his old nemesis. Porb tapped his eye in mirror to Vispar’s blinded one. “Look who took home a souvenir. You haven’t fled yet. Want to dance, Cryptal Vispar? For I have rehearsed, and am more than ready.” Porb held out gloved fingers, and in his palm came a blade narrow as an eyelash and bright as the sun. The guard wrapped elegantly across his hand and wrist.
Porb used a blade?
Vispar hissed, “Cerak’s Tongue will not harm me as you believe.” Her eyes took to me, hissing an unoriginal, “Fool.”
Goyath backed a step with her words. After a moment, he seemed to realize she did not look at him, but behind him.
“Fool?” Porbiyo said, “He hurt you, old foe. We hurt you. And Cerak’s blessing upon this blade will transcend worlds same as all Creation. Otherwise our abilities would mean nothing once we left Eggnaut.”
Goyath glanced behind. His eyes—rageful, burning, crimson like flames—widened at the sight of me. His eyelashes drooped. His stance softened. In his eyes I saw the reflection of me. Doubt, and fear, and remorse.
I nodded to him, and inhaled deeply. The blue-orange blaze of stonefire churned in my mouth, smoke curling up the sides of my face past my eyes. “Leave him, snake, or you will face more than us today.”
Vispar’s eyes spoke of what I told. She felt what we felt. Agglomerates. Kin. They neared.
She disappeared, dust once again sucked into the volume of her displaced body. A wicked fast raptor small as a songbird, she zipped past us before anyone could react and towards the power plant in its glorious electronic lights.
Coward. A true coward.
Goyath shrieked into the sky and parted the clouds with his ire. He collapsed in his crater. The sky, full of faces and fury and idle evils, nearly grinned at his gesture of mortal anguish. The warlord’s body went limp with exhausted adrenaline.
Porbiyo zipped in pursuit of his foe. Now that he’d faced her, he could not resist the chase. For once in their struggle he seemed to have the advantage. Threshold flew into view. She eyed Goyath’s lame body.
“We’re alright, help Porb!” I yelled.
Threshold’s gold keychains spiraled as she soared past Goyath and I. Owyle in her ghostly form zoomed in her wake, the strumming of a tuned guitar echoing in the waves of her flight.
I tiptoed towards the emu warlord, toes spreading dust like sand in softened steps. His wing writhed. The bayonets in place of feathers rippled with his heavy breaths. I knew his pain. Vispar toyed with him. She could have killed him, likely, if she desired. Whatever death may mean. But she didn’t. She didn’t even seem to try.
He almost beat her, it seemed.
While Porb or Threshold held cognitive or intangible abilities enhanced by magic, Goyath seemed to be nearer Saxa Orias in that their physical being was blessed more than any interdimensional doors or sketchbook of cosmic zoology.
There were parts of him still tied to his homeworld. To mortality. His soul attached to the concept of what he once was, and unable to process what he had become. And so when pain strikes the undying, ever enduring it shall be.
I would have died a hundred times if I weren’t one of Peridot’s Cursed. I still remember those first battles. Bones broken, skin charred, mind scrambled. . . but still I could not die. You lie there, healing, slowly, cell by cell, until everything is back in order. And if you can’t lie down—if tortured, or imprisoned, or at war—you keep taking the pain. Again and again. Until finally the enemy, not you, gives in.
I rounded the enormous metal bird’s body. His breaths beat dust into the air, neck lame and head dead against the blue dirt. His eyelashes—long as my forearm and slim as grass blades—parted gently.
I knelt beside his head, and touched his beak.
“I am sorry,” he said. “I am sorry, Opaline. Your name has echoed in my mind since that duel.”
I let him speak.
“Billionth warlord I am,” he began, “and wish I always could remain.”
“I came to you. You were right,” I whispered, “I came to face you, to humble you, to show you what I was. A vile, pompous desire.”
“In your provocation, I resigned to my instincts. It was not a time for a warlord’s action. A scholar should have met you that day. They would have comprehended—appreciated—you. I had no basis to assume of you and your plights. Yet I did assault you in words I shall never escape in my own heart. Never, now, have I felt so lost.” He rose his head from the dirt and his feathers slicked back, as if his body began to find itself again. “I wished to save them.” He said of his people back home.
“I know.” I set my jaw, “I have thought long and hard about what you said. You were right. About all of it. Not always would your words hold weight. But there? In that moment? When I came to meet you for a duel to decide the fates, I did not come for any one reason but to prove my strength. I never wish for such stupidity. You prodded a nerve in me—a weakness in my ego—and in that insecurity I caved. This is my fault. I should have walked away from you. From your people. From your life and your worries.”
“They’d crumble without me,” he said, attempting to rise but falling back to the dirt. Dust rushed through my legs at the wind from his fall. “I made the choice. Not you. I believed your Genesar held power I could grasp. I now see that all I’ll ever be able to grasp is eternity.”
“We can never grasp eternity, merely endure it.”
“A melancholic stance for a hero as you are.”
“I endure the flames to save the child. I endure the fight to face the witch. I endure the pain to rise again. Endurance is the greatest courage there is. And it is the one thing we can truly hold onto, should we decide. Our life. Our existence. Ourselves. We endure all else to keep us, us.”
Goyath breathed deeply. His body fought to stay upright.
At the edge of the crater, Skedder’s wheel form shifted into her spider-like humanoid shape. Hum-Dum nestled in her arms. She approached wearily while the egg-collector smiled in her creepy way. Behind them a great red and white cloud vibrated. From the dark, the dancing circus lights of Carna Cadava descended like a grand living starship. A great jellyfish or cephalopod from a far away planet, but instead a tent given life. Cadava’s two holes for eyes expressed curiosity.
Bigklau scuttled near. His hulking body stumbled in the sand pummeled up by Goyath’s scream. The giant crustacean neared Goyath’s three meters in height. Humans would be dwarfed by their musculature and scale. I felt so small in their presence, physically. And with the enormity of Cadava’s shadow that sensation only intensified. Only a mouse, still, I thought.
“Others?” Goyath whispered to me. His beak could swallow me whole.
Bigklau came beside me. His claws extended, he said, “I am Bigklau. The spoons are Skedder Reskatahl. The egg is Hummarie. The sheet above us, Carna Cadava.”
“The snake?” Goyath said.
“Cryptal Vispar,” I said. “The two who chased were Porbiyo—on the carpet. And Threshold—in the rings of golden light.”
“How. . . how can I understand you all?” Goyath said. “Your languages are all in my ears at once. I feel as if I hear a hundred voices in a single tongue. I spent years training to understand the dialects and runic symbols of my tribes.”
“Our voices, like song?” Bigklau said. “Melody dancing in your very soul? For what is the mind compared to our being. The voice and language and all their nuances is lost in your ears and yet known in your heart?”
“The Many Tongues song,” I said.
“Voloquis,” Bigklau sang in the Dragons’ tongue, one word of the many he knew in that divine speech. A skill he’d picked up by actively researching the subject through music in his absurd age.
Bigklau was one of the first few Agglomerates. Peridot’s first three.
He was the only sane of them left, I’d come to find out.
And even he had his troubles.
“I cannot hear others,” Goyath said. “I’ve been without word or song since. . . since this began. Only you speak to me and I may listen. Only your words are known to me in their unknown speech. I have been without conversation. And without conversation, alone.
“Chased by villagers. Hunted by beasts. Attacked by city watch and even swallowed by a land of flesh rather than soil. I am an alien where I walk. Even in my ability to listen. Even in my ability to speak. I am alone.”
“You are not alone,” Bigklau said. He grasped a cello from his shell, a wooden horn instrument two meters tall, and floating beside his eye came a bell. “Where there are beating hearts and stepping feet and tapping claws, there is song. Where there is moving mind and growing soul and breath for life, there is song. Where there is laughter and conversation and wordless conversation, there is song. Let me tune your ears to the music of all things. Let the words breathed by Loche themself move through you, Voloquis. For the language of the Dragons is spoken through Syndel, not speech, and in their Syndels come language so absolute that it is no language—but a grand knowing.”
Bigklau played his cello and his horn and tapped his bell with his eyestalk. The music made my ears screech. As a crab cannot play instruments built for fingers and hands. He did not rely on magic to sooth his playing. Even after all these millennia, he allowed himself the lack of skill.
He was simply terrible, and would never be more than that.
But in his intention came power. In his very Existence and the Creation which forged him came power. Instillment, perhaps? Or some other magic beyond my comprehension. For even in playing the Many Tongues song—Voloquis—in a way most would see as unfit, the song itself overwhelmed his inability to master it, and instead attuned itself to its player rather than the player playing the song.
Color and life and warmth danced around us in a haze. Blackness and death and coldness fought into the fold. Love and passion toyed with apathy and idleness. All things flickered in our eyes.
The psychedelic nature of Dragons’ songs are beyond the mind or soul.
I could feel the pull of the Syndel within me. The spinning top gifted by Peridot, one of her last remaining Divine Spires. The Syndel breathed in my heart and pulsated through my Existence. I could hear my blood rushing, my whiskers in the breeze, my nerves sending signals to my brain. I heard the dust shuffled in my fur and my clothes graze my coat. I heard my name echoed a million times followed by the damndest silence.
I heard every word ever spoken in a single name.
And that name burst into every word thereafter. And from those words came names, and from those names worlds, and from those worlds lives, and from those lives stories, and from those stories songs.
And those words and their songs seeded all things.
Existence and Nonexistence.
Creation and Annihilation.
A grand singularity. For language is not so simple as tongues moving or clicks sounding or little markings carved into stone. The seeds of all were nestled in the cradle of song.
To hear the notes for their individual sounds and not the symphony?
With this gift came the eternal symphony.
Bigklau’s song concluded. The old crab’s instruments returned to their places, and Goyath’s bewildered expression matched any who could be present. The music enlightened him. His eyes widened as his mind processed the majesty of what Bigklau sang to him.
I eyed Cadava, whose frills of material wafted great winds through my fur and rose dust into a haze. He stayed silent, yet followed us. Had he come to aid Vispar? Or to end this conflict? He was opposed to Agglomerates facing one another. Perhaps he followed merely out of curiosity.
BOOM! BOOM! BA-BOOM!
Fire. Eruption. Destruction.
The world shook. The faces in the sky opened their mouths and cried aloud—so wicked and vile and unmatched that my ears rang. Mountains trembled and the land burned in darkness, then fire again.
A rush of hot dust and debris barreled towards us. A wall of fury twenty meters tall. Cadava twisted his tent body and landed over us smaller of his kin. He protected us from the blaze.
“What is this?” Goyath said, speaking in tongues he didn’t know he was capable of. The tent churned over his bayonets but stayed uncut. Skedder slipped through Cadava’s tent into the outside. I followed.
Hum-Dum gone from Skedd’s arms, the Master of Spoons seemed set on finding the minuscule egg in the torrent. Cadava’s frills cleared the air immediately after the explosion.
Porbiyo teleported near us, Threshold and Owyle in arm.
The structure had been destroyed in one fell explosion. Cadava continued his magical winds, clearing the air for us. Bigklau and Goyath came from the door of his tent.
“Where is Vispar? She did this?” I said, assuming given her direction.
A dark angel rose above the power plant’s ruin. Smoke and fire and molten concrete bent with her approach. Body white, luminescent in some unnatural, foul sheen. Even from so far I knew that frame. Even from so far, her voice carried to me clear as a whisper in the ear.
“STEP FORWARD, DISCOUNTED,” shrieked Vicar Venefica, “FOR THIS WORLD HAS DELIVERED YOU UNTO ME AS AN ACT OF DIVINE SUPERINTENDENCE.”
The cyclopean natives ran from her. They leapt off their towers into the magma rather than be crushed by concrete and scaffolding. Hundreds? Maybe thousands dying.
I couldn’t save them.
That was impossible. Venefica would interfere.
“The wicked one first,” Threshold said, “then save who we can.”
“COME TO ME,” Venefica screamed, “I WISH TO TASTE THE ALFARIN THIS DAY. THE LORD SHALL SQUEAL IN GAIETY.”
“What. . . what is that monster,” Goyath said, eyes fearful for the first time I’d ever seen.
I said, “That is what occurs when eternity takes hold of you.”
To be continued. . .