This story is PART 3 OF 4 and has CONTINUED for 4 WEEKS
I’m a mouse, Porbiyo a freak—our silhouettes were not what I would call camouflage. The haze faded to a light mist, and the island’s surface shone bright white. Any semblance of stealth came from Porbiyo’s crouched tiptoe, a ridiculous display of unintentional comedy.
We couldn’t hide even if we wanted to. The island was a plain. Even the broken pieces of concrete that made boulders weren’t frequent enough for us to approach in proper stealth.
We managed to slip under the shadow of one of the starships. Three meter tall, winged, armored Goldmen soared in the sky above.
From beneath the crystalline starship, I couldn’t see the sides. A vessel so large should not exist. There was an arrogance to such structures.
We did not move any faster simply due to the shroud of cover. If anything, we slowed down. The Goldmen didn’t have eyes—and that meant they saw with another sense. So far we hadn’t been spotted, but that also could have been the distance.
Now we were close.
“We’re going to get caught,” I said, motioning to the ship above. The massive vessel was supported by three legs the size of skyscrapers. Up close, this wasn’t a metal ship, but one made of a crystal harvested from the furthest reaches of the universes’ edges—starstone.
Being semi-translucent, the crystal gave one a tiny glimpse at the skeleton within. Dark shapes, vast corridors. The vision was startling.
What kinds of defenses could this vessel have? Technological or magical, surely me and Porb would be detected. “Porb, we need a better plan than this.”
“Crouch!” he whisper-yelled.
I reminded him I was half his size.
“Not in ego you aren’t. Crouch!”
I slid in front of him and pressed my paw to my lips, “Will you stop with the yelling?”
“I’m not yelling!”
“You are yelling, in a whispering tone. That’s still yelling.”
From the ground beneath us, several fully armored Goldmen rose. As if carved from the concrete and transformed to flesh, they appeared before us in malicious stature.
Two Goldmen. They were protected in suits so advanced I couldn’t discern whether they were organic or not. Horns curled from their skulls, ready to puncture our flesh.
I whispered, “Look what you did.”
“Hello you big stupid gold-skinned half gods,” Porb smiled.
The Goldmen spoke in unison, extended enormous shrouding wings, and made hand signs in esoteric symbols. They said, “Your detection is noted and forgiven in the event of surrender. The blood of our brethren lie on your hands, Agglomerates, and shall be purged by ways of the warp or voice of the Godspeakers.”
Agglomerates. . . the term some have called Peridot’s Cursed. These creatures knew what we were—who we were. They also knew I killed their friends at the beach, but they weren’t going to kill us?
Not yet, anyway. But the “warp” and “voices of the Godspeakers,” sounded akin to a death sentence.
I glared at Porb.
Porb stepped back and swung his paintbrush staff like an expert martial artist. He said, “I’m no fool, Ratman. They’ve been watching us this whole time. . . figured I’d make enough noise to grab their attention. All part of the plan. Kill yours, or catch?”
“Eh, I’ll catch.”
He giggled, “Excellent.”
The Goldman before me turned into fire as I pounced. I flew through the flames and rolled to rid myself of the embers. Concrete ground. My vest caught on fire without dirt to put it out.
The Goldman rematerialized and grew a second set of smaller arms from his core. The smaller arms made rapid hand gestures, and the creature superheated the concrete beneath me—shattering the ground and causing a miniature wave of lava.
I jumped as high into the air as I could. And I panicked.
I wasn’t ready for a magical fight. Not at all. Porb needed me to catch this thing? I wasn’t going to waste any time. I fell onto regular concrete as rivers of lava pursued me, and the Goldman—now forming walls of flame around us—floated above, tiny arms like puppeteers to his lava rivers below.
“Submit, mortal. The Godspeakers request word with thee.”
Deep inside, I let the opal in my blood react with my Aura. My stomach growled and my eyes burned blue and orange. Before the Goldman could object, my breath was unleashed like a tidal wave of freezing hot energy.
The lava, and the Goldman, turned to a statue.
I collapsed and took a few deep breaths. I didn’t hold back on that breath, not one bit. I couldn’t risk wasting more sorcery so I needed to use a little extra earlier on to be certain of my opponent’s defeat.
I stumbled around the defeated Goldman and prayed no more would arrive. A stupid prayer. They knew we were here. As Porbiyo so readily informed me, they’d watched us since our arrival.
When I rounded the statue, I saw the remaining moments of Porbiyo’s victory, in which he teleported the Goldman’s limbs away from its body, and eventually its head. There was a fair amount of blue blood.
Porb finished his terrifying display and said, “Do you feel that. . .”
I extinguished more sorcery than necessary. I could barely walk. Porb stumbled forward and caught his breath.
“Is it the star stone?” I motioned to the starship above and the strange, translucently metallic crystal. “Starstone has to be imbued with properties, I didn’t think it could leech.”
“Not the starstone, I don’t think.” Porb prodded the dead Goldman, “I think these beings in and of themselves will exhaust our magic. We need to be careful.” He started to limp away.
“Yes? Oh, right, my incredible plan.” He limped back to me and carefully climbed the statue up to the Goldman’s head. “I need into his head. You practiced psionics, did you not?”
“Could you crack into this thing’s mind and figure out exactly what we’re up against?”
“I thought you knew what we were up against?”
“Places to go, places to avoid, shortcuts, dimensional anomalies to steer clear of, if anybody is imprisoned who could help us—,” he said, “We could use that kind of information.”
“I haven’t tried it in ages.” And I hadn’t. When fighting alongside the gremlins during That Time, I’d been taught how to invade the enemy’s mind. The Kaihan helm enhanced the ability, intimidating foes and sharing splendor with allies. “Besides, my stonefire kills the being it suspends. I don’t think it’s possible. We need somebody extremely proficient to do that kind of magic.”
“You think Winnibek is around devouring any poor soul’s thoughts?”
“We don’t have time to find Winnibek.” Another one of Peridot’s Cursed, Winnibek trapped people’s entire memories in buttons. She was rare to spot, but powerful with memories and telepathic connections. I said, “Anything in your pad that could give it a go?”
“I’ve logged a six meter two headed gastropod whose shell is a collection of her prey’s brain matter. . .” Porb shrugged, “I believe the migor also controls the corpses of her prey using said brains.”
“Give it a shot?”
“We don’t have much time, any minute now and. . . ah damnit.” and as Porb spoke, a half dozen Goldman surrounded us in the space between our heads and the starship. Some wielded pikes, others crossbows, and several were weaponless—likely magi utilizing their hand gestures.
“Summon your damn brain-snail.”
“She is a migor,” Porb said, “and I’ll summon a lot more than that. . .” his cackles gave me a disturbed confidence. “Just protect her, we’ll handle the others,” he opened his sketchbook, and as the wind turned the pages a great light exploded.
Roaring. Screeching. Howling.
A set of impenetrable bindings held me to a pad which floated above the ground. I felt like I were being executed. The more I struggled, the more bindings lashed from the metal pad and grasped parts of my body. In no time, I was cloaked in a cocoon of energy beams from the neck down.
Porb summoned a breadth of animals from his pad, but as the creatures were injured, he couldn’t stand to watch their pain and summoned them back into his sketches. One reptile was properly killed. Porbiyo cried like a child as he beheaded the Goldman who did the deed, then he laughed in tears as the head rolled down to the concrete.
Porb was subdued shortly after me, and we both watched as his migor fought bravely against the legion of Goldmen. There must have been a hundred of the Goldmen—their size and magical prowess an absolute terror to behold.
I had never been bested so quickly. I can’t even remember what happened, if I’m honest. In moments I was subdued. All was a blur.
In the shadow of the starship, Porbiyo’s enormous psychic snail was obliterated by the Goldmen, though not before turning a half dozen of the fiends to its own hive minded horde. The migor was defeated and thrown onto a large transport vehicle, the nature of its destination left as mystery.
Porb and I were loaded onto a small flying transport, which was carried by the Goldmen as if they were oxen to a cart. We were taken down a series of roads between the starships, which led through a complex which I could only describe as a manufacturing facility.
Thousands of Goldmen worked beneath us, leading teams of the greyfolk I had met before. The grey peoples numbered in the tens of thousands in the space between the starships. No buildings, no coverings but tents.
The factory was not any factory, simply a biome transformed into a vast worker’s hell.
Hundreds of forges, hundreds of piles of scrap, and corpses, and vehicles. We flew fast across the area. They seemed to be building anything from weapons to golems, from vehicles to modular building systems. We flew between two buildings—identifiable by being some of the only structures in the haze—both skyscrapers were built from pod-like geodes the size of rooms, which snapped together like a hundred meter puzzle.
We flew away from the starship yard, whose scale cannot be overstated, and whose labor was incomprehensible to me. I had been upon a battlefield of 200,000 soldiers. The forces at work on this island dwarfed that scene. And the longer we flew, the longer the ground stretched.
A stretch of space and matter brought the island’s center to a vast countryside. What should have been only a few kilometers wide took us an hour to fly across. The space between the starships created some sort of fold in reality. A magical veil so powerful that a small nation was housed inside.
“I told you,” Porb said, “Size is not a matter of matter alone.” And he was not exaggerating. This scale of magic was almost unfathomable. There was a difference between hearing incredible stories, knowing incredible feats, and actually experiencing great might.
A starship in the furthest point of the circle seemed to be the largest, and in this extended point of view our approach showed the size marvelously. The ship stood several kilometers long and at least a single kilometer in height. The vessel could have housed thousands of people—if that were even the intention.
The crystalline structures appeared as impious, fiendish vehicles so ungodly and mighty none could oppose the force. Yet they were almost natural—like spines of a mountain plucked from a planet’s surface and given the engine to travel between worlds.
Here we flew over fields of crops. Not planted into the concrete, but hanging from labyrinthian wall mazes. The aunikai cows worked this area from scaffolds. They too numbered in the thousands. Where did all of these workers and animals sleep? I couldn’t see anywhere suitable but the vessels, and the few tents which lined the area.
The orange sulfuric haze engulfed the island by seaward wind. In the blink of an eye, the world below was sheltered from our view, only to be seen as passing lights in the thick smog.
Goldmen soared around us in militant procession. A single one of the beings towed our prison cell. The worst he could do was hurt me—but it seemed we were to be captured, not killed. So I asked, in the least fearful tone I could muster, “What is this place?”
“Ukhanadumud,” spoke the Goldmen who towed our flying prison cell.
Porbiyo shuddered beside me. My ears did not translate the word into anything I could understand. I asked, “Ukhanadumud—what does that mean?”
Porb struggled in his bindings, intensifying his punishment. In a few seconds he was grappled by dozens of little energy beams. We were two matching cocoons prepared for execution.
He said, “We need to get out of this, now.”
“We should have gotten a better plan,” I said, feeling so foolish. Years of blipping between worlds and thwarting any threat gave you a certain touch of invincibility. The arrogance and naivety in our desire to free Peridot from these beings crushed me.
We should have done better. Not every problem could be solved with a hard attitude and determination. Intellect always defeated both when applied well. And better yet, meditation on the matter at hand.
“He can hear us,” Porb motioned to the Goldman, who did not seem interested but most certainly was. Porb’s hat kept flying off his head, and continuously teleported back on. “And my magic. . .”
“My sorcery, too. . . I’m drained. Stop teleporting your hat and maybe it will reserve your energy.”
“The hat teleports itself,” he said. “I’m not stupid.”
“Stupid enough to call attention to us.”
“They already knew we were here. . . the moment you came onto this planet they knew! As we approached they watched us, felt us, knew we were here. . . now the closer we get the stronger their vision becomes.” As we passed over the largest starship, the visual extension of the land ended. It seemed the strange dimensional plain lie only between the starships in the yard. Once we passed the last vessel, the shoreline was alight through another round of fading fog.
“Agglomerates, they called us,” I said. “They know who we are.”
“Peridot and her Curse are a subject of much interest to these beings and their stupid servants,” Porb tried to spit at the Goldman, but forgot he wore a mask it seemed. He became very uncomfortable, as his hands were bound and unable to take the now spit-covered mask off to clean his face. Porb continued, “How many of us are trapped with Peridot, a few dozen? Everyone but those stupid musicians always avoid me like the plague. You’re far more jolly with the gang. What would you say, thirty or more?”
“And of those few dozen, do you think anymore ended up on this island?” Porb eyed the surroundings, “This place isn’t just an island, though. You came from a far shore. This is a moon. A minuscule moon. The chances of another one of our compatriots getting to Peridot is increased from a normal world, I’d say! Maybe we’ll get some help!”
I sighed, “I doubt that.”
“Yes, it’s very unlikely. I thought I’d try and brighten the mood.”
We slowed our pace and descended through the haze.
A grand temple stabbed into the clouds. The pyramid had only its corners, with no walls or middle. The four sides of the structures had been removed, or never built, leaving only four angled corner-walls reaching for a centerpoint. The shear white concrete matched the island on which it stood.
No other structures lie anywhere within a kilometer. Small shrubs and plants grew from the bases of the corners. In the middle of the pyramid’s huge inner “void,” stood a single pillar.
Hundreds of Goldmen surrounded the temple.
We landed, and our platforms floated towards the pyramid. Goldmen legions flanked in on either side, both guiding and guarding us.
“We need out of this, now,” I struggled. Still, nothing. I drew in a deep stonefire breath. But no sorcery. . . I couldn’t summon even a hint of magic. All my ability waned. Nausea crept in.
My Aura was empty. My soul, weak.
“Opaline. . . I can’t. . . I can’t do anything,” Porb whispered low. He nodded to me, “Suppose we die in a moment, let’s at least acknowledge the truth. You are a rat, and always have been. This ‘mouse’ thing needs to stop.”
“We aren’t going to die. . .” I said.
“How do you know that?” He growled, and then grew contemplative. “I never finished my books. Now all my work will die with me. . . and we’ll fade away into nothingness. Just memories. The Beastmaster of All Beasts and the Ratman. . . friends and fools.”
“This isn’t the end,” I said.
“And how do you know that?”
“I saw a statue of myself. . . on a desert world, a few worlds ago. I haven’t been there yet, Porbiyo. That hasn’t happened yet.” I set my jaw, “We won’t die here. . . so let’s discover how. Sharpen your ears, eyes, and everything else. Our magic is gone. Let’s figure this out the old fashioned way.”
“Through wild wit and gracious grit!” He laughed, “You see a statue of me, too? How did I look—which coat was on top?”
“Purple, Porb,” I didn’t have the heart to tell him the truth.
“Purple. . . I always did love purple. Perhaps I’ll always wear it on top now, just to make sure. . .” He took a long inhalation. And as we entered the pyramid’s sides, the world began to swirl, warp, and change. Our vision drastically altered. I closed my eyes to block the confusion, but a headache seized my brain regardless.
“We’re here, old friend.”
When I opened my eyes, Porbiyo and I stood on a platform suspended high in the air. Hundreds of Goldmen surrounded the ground and flew in the air. The sky was no sky, but like the inside of some translucent glass. A thick, white, smoky swirling glass.
Across the way, a hundred meter tall mouth opened with grinding teeth. Suspended in animation, the being did not move. A single great eye—taller than an automobile—glowed vibrant green upon the pale purple skin.
The mouth belonged to a worm.
Then, another mouth appeared. Smaller, and bluer rather than purple. Then, another, and another, and another. Nine titanic worms of varying sizes, colors, and features. The beings spiraled in a large circle from largest to smallest, with all their mouths agape towards the centerpoint—me and Porb.
They were completely suspended. Not a single hint of life or movement besides their shining eyes.
They appeared dead. . .
Our bindings were released. On the platform stood a small altar, on which lie a shining plate of pearlescent rock. Above that rock, Peridot floated in an unconscious slumber.
The worms loomed as mountains. I shrunk beneath their gaze. I couldn’t look at the eyes for more than a second without illness and terror tickling my mind.
Porbiyo had said this place was “fit for millions,” but “for a few.” Only then did I realize what he was attempting to convey. These beings were so far beyond. One worm could fit aboard the starships on the island.
Perhaps the starships weren’t for armies. . .
“Godspeakers. . .?” I questioned, unable to say another word.
“No, Ratman. These are not the Godspeakers. I told you. . .” Porb’s voice shook, “there were only a couple of worms. . .” Porb bowed and turned to me, “These are, as the ancient songs say, the eldest gods of the oldest worlds.”
“Say their name.” I set my jaw, “I want to hear it.”
Porb nodded, “The most ancient of ancients, those who treat worlds as gardens. Children of providence and wombs of all knowledge. . . Opaline, you stand before the. . . the Genesar.”
When he sung the name Genesar, the word carried tune to the world around us. The worms’ eyes lit in new colors, and from the mouth of each titan came a floating servant.
As the nine approached, Porb whispered with shaking voice, “I do not know if the Genesar can speak, but their voices have never been heard by my ears. These nine are their representatives. . . Godspeakers.”
“You’ve seen this before?” I whispered. I know they all heard us. They could probably read every thought in my mind. But whispering helped. Made us feel undetectable in our own pathetic way.
“Last time. Yes.” He did not elaborate.
The nine Godspeakers spoke in unison as a great divine choir, “Your choice is simple, Opaline of Dahn and Porbiyo of Eggraut, submit or meet the fate of your false idol.”
Porbiyo couldn’t speak. He kept his eyes on the ground.
“And that fate is?” I squeaked.
“Beyond life or death, Creation of Annihilation. Your affliction is a plague, mortal, caused by the curiosity of a foolish Dragon,” one of the Godspeakers floated especially close. He was a three meter tall, winged, red skinned monster so muscular he could have popped. The Godspeaker growled in all nine voices, “You carry a plague. This plague will be extinguished. We have arrived here, to this Uhkanadumud, in genesis of the final sequence. Your plague shall not stand in our way.”
“Uhkanadumud. . .” I understood the term, that time. “Meeting of Many Gods.”
I tried to summon a sorcery from my Aura. Nothing.
Decades of sorcery always being ready, power always at my disposal, and at the first touch of resistance I crumbled inside. The true weakness of my mortality set in. Before these Genesar and their Godspeaker voices, I was nothing but a mouse. Back to where it all began. . . I was a tiny, humble, pathetic bag of flesh.
I looked to Peridot, who floated above the peculiar silver plate on the pedestal. Emotion flooded through me, and my jaw twitched as a tear drizzled down my cheek.
Whatever they wanted with her, they weren’t going to get it.
No matter how small I felt, they captured the one person in all the universes who had done nothing but love me. . . and I wouldn’t cower in their shadow no matter how dark it became.
In this case, humility was virtuous.
They’d sapped my sorcery, and my power, and my confidence. Their size, might, unimaginable power overwhelmed me. But that is always the issue with enormous scale—
The smallest of things go unnoticed.
And the smallest of threats go unheeded.
PART 3 OF 4