Journal 55—The Crimson Sea
Our return to Evera was met with amazement. Theen was shocked we’d even survived, much less rescued Nyll. When the crippled man had returned with the news of Frost’s fall, Theen had begun evacuating the Order from Evera. Nyll took charge the moment he stepped off the tram. The members of the Order that were left rallied as Nyll issued orders and demanded to know what had occurred in his absence. Nyll became so absorbed in preparations, that he seemed to forget his promise entirely.
“You promised to show us the origins of the Order,” Yaisona reminded him.
He waved her aside impatiently.
“There’s no time!” he told us. “I’ve got a lot of work to do for our diversion to be successful.”
Yaisona insisted, and in the end, Theen agreed to show us the way. Yaisona promised Nyll we’d be back as soon as possible.
Yaisona asked Deen and the others to return to the Second Dawn. If we failed to defeat the Crimson Sea, they were to get the crew safely out of Evera. Kalendra, Rashka, and even Deen agreed, but Teriine, as usual was adamant.
“I’m coming with you,” she insisted. “Baa chose me to aid you, and aid you I shall.”
We’d all learned the futility of arguing with zephraus. Besides, not even Nulio could deny she’d saved our lives more than once.
“Baadonai chose well,” Yaisona said simply.
With that we all boarded the tram.
Alyssa took Syrai out of her carrier. The Syrai was delighted with her freedom. She crawled straight to Nulio and tugged on his robes. Nulio glanced nervously at Alyssa. She nodded, and Nulio picked Syrai up. She giggled and cooed. She played with the ties of his mask, and tried to reach Ayu, who was now perched on Gertrude’s shoulder. But when Syrai tried to use his amplifier as a teether, Nulio had had enough. He started singing softly. It had been a long journey, and we were all exhausted…
I awoke with Arik’s cloak draped over me. He slumped next to me, snoring loudly. Gertrude leaned, eyes closed, on Nulio’s shoulder. Everyone, even Theen, had fallen sound asleep. Nulio grinned, as I stretched.
“That worked better than I thought,” he said sheepishly.
The others woke, when the tram slowed. We passed a room full of pillars. Thankfully, we were still moving to fast for them to fire on us. The tram came to a jarring stop close to the end wall of the cavern. There was a large hole in the wall. We climbed out of the tram. Deen lead us through the hole and down a long winding corridor. The thick acrid tang of drowl ore was almost overpowering. Our eyes watered and our heads ached at the stench of it. Deen assured us that the journey was almost over.
As she walked, she told us of Nyll’s grandsire. He’d been a miner in Terminal Frost. The Guild forced the denizens of the Outer City to work in the drowl fields. They were sent deeper and deeper into the mines until many of them died from tunnel collapses and drowl exposure. On one such journey into the mines, there was a tunnel collapse. Nyll’s grandsire was the only survivor. He searched the tunnels in vain for hours, trying to find a way out.
“Just when he’d lost all hope, he discovered this room,” Theen told us quietly.
We’d been walking the entire time she’d been telling us the story. Now we were in a large cavern. Our headaches disappeared and the stench of drowl ore faded. There, on the far wall of the cavern, was the symbol of the Order.
“The air in this cavern is clean and clear. It saved Nyll’s grandsire’s life. He took the Flame as an omen. He used it to fan the spark of rebellion in the other miners. The Order would destroy the Guild and take back our city. We have continued the fight for many years, but this, this is where it all began…”
While Theen stood in silent contemplation, we took a closer look at the carving on the wall. Beneath it was a pattern of rings like the one we’d seen in Tharmune.
“Coming here always brings a sense of awe. Were it not for this place, the Order would never have begun. But we need to leave soon,” Theen told us, “Nyll will—“
She stopped in mid sentence. We’d placed our bracelets in the mural.
“What are you doing?” she demanded.
The stone wall slid aside to reveal another chamber. Arik’s face lit with joy. The largest Orchid we’d ever seen stood on a pedestal on the wall. We ran up to it, leaving Theen stammering behind us in disbelief.
The Orchid was the far from the only treasure in that room of wonders. In one hand the Orchid held five heal spheres. In another it held amulets. Its third hand held rings like the ones the Prophets gave us. The last hand held sheets of a strange gauzy material. They were Invisibility cloaks!
Yaisona took the rings and handed one of them to each of us, including Teriine.
“Why does Teriine need a ring?” Nulio whined. “She already has mine!”
“As long as Teriine remains with us, she is a Revenant in all but name,” Yaisona replied firmly.
Nulio, for a wonder, didn’t argue.
Yaisona handed Teriine a cloak as well. The cloak was never meant for someone Teriine’s height. It only came down to her knees. Nulio laughed. But the sight only reminded me that the cloak was meant for Mariana, not Teriine, and Mariana wasn’t here. Teriine hunched over, and the cloak covered her feet, barely.
“I can make it work,” she declared.
I had my doubts, but we didn’t have much choice.
There was a book sitting on a large pedestal in the center of the room. I couldn’t understand a word of it, but Gertrude was fascinated. She stared at it for several minutes. Then she lifted it off its pedestal and stuffed it into her pack.
Arik climbed into the Grand Orchid. The bronze steam armor was much larger than any of the others we’d found. Then Arik picked up the Inquisitor, and we saw what the Grand Orchid had truly been made for. The sword became a solid arc of shimmering steel in the Orchids hands.
Deen stared at us in awe.
“We really need to get going,” she stammered.
Arik looked at the Orchid then at the tram and back at the Orchid. There was no way we would get the Orchid on the tram, and no way we’d get Arik on the tram without the Orchid. Suddenly, the Orchid started slowly moving away from the tram.
“Arik, wait!” I cried. “Where are you going?”
“I don’t know!” Arik called back. “I’m not doing it!”
We looked around and saw that the Orchid had latched on to a track and was following it to the other side of the room. The tracks ended at a door that opened to allow the Orchid through. We followed quickly after it. The room beyond was filled with pillars. The pillars locked on to the Grand Orchid, but they didn’t fire. The rest of us stuck as close to the Orchid as we could. Finally, the Orchid came to a stop at the open doors of another tram. This one was more than big enough to hold the steam armor. We all climbed inside, and the tram started moving.
The tram took us back to Evera. We were almost there when Deen cried out.
“Brace yourselves!” she warned.
Nyll had sealed off all of the unused tunnels. Luckily, the tram had slowed down before we hit Nyll’s barrier. We were bruised from the crash, but no one was seriously hurt.
We climbed over the rubble. Members of the Order stared in us in awe. A few minutes later Nyll showed up. He began loudly praising us as the invincible warriors who were going to crush the Crimson Sea. He kept it up until he could get us behind closed doors.
“Where have you been?!” Nyll demanded, when we were alone. “Everyone’s in place, but we can’t hold them off forever!”
Yaisona quickly explained what had happened. Nyll looked to Theen, and she nodded.
I’d never thought to see Nyll speechless. I felt for him. Knowing the chambers true purpose seemed to destroy some of its magic. But Nyll was too good a leader to be ruled by sentiment. He gave us a few last minute instructions.
“You have to disable the Crimson Sea’s cannon first,” he urged. “We won’t stand a chance against it.”
Yaisona assured Nyll that we understood the danger his men faced. We would not let them down.
Once we reached the Crimson Sea, we split up. Arik, Alyssa, and I would disable the cannon, while the others searched for the Dawn’s Awakening. Arik had trouble getting the Orchid past the Crimson Sea’s deck cannon. It bent beneath the steam armors girth. One of the mages noticed. Before he could sound an alarm, Alyssa floated the mage over the side of the ship and dropped him. The other mages ran to his aid. Unfortunately, one of them ran right into Arik’s path. Arik couldn’t stop, and the Orchid flattened the mage. Yaisona cast Invisibility over the body. We’d just have to hope it wouldn’t be noticed.
After the others had gone, I looked to the huge cannon that was the Crimson Sea’s main weapon. According to Yaisona, the cannon wasn’t part of the Crimson Sea’s original design. Chances were that its controls would not be part of the main control room. I led Arik and Alyssa up to the room directly beneath the cannon. Maybe I could find a way to damage it from there. But there was no control panel, only cabling and steam pipe lined the back wall. Damaging those pipes would bring the whole cannon crashing down on us.
“I’m not making that mistake again,” Arik declared, echoing my thoughts.
The cannon fired, its deafening retort shook the room. We didn’t have time to keep searching for the controls. If the Order were to stand any chance at all, I had to destroy the cannon quickly.
“We need to reach the platform before that thing fires again,” I told the others.
Arik went first; he carefully timed his climb so that no one would notice the metal bending beneath the Orchid’s weight. Alyssa silently floated up to the platform.
I have to learn that trick.
I scrambled up next to the others. The cannon was heavily armored. I doubted even the Inquisitor would do it much damage. I ignored Arik’s growing impatience and searched for some sort of weakness. Then I spotted it. The release valve for the recoil was completely unprotected.
Could it be that easy?
I quickly diverted the flow of steam to where, I hoped, it wouldn’t be noticed. Arik was unimpressed.
“That’s it?” he demanded.
“Yeah, now we get out of here.”
Arik looked doubtfully at the cannon. Clearly, he’d expected something a little more dramatic.
“You know they’re going to send someone to repair it.”
“With any luck, they won’t know anything’s wrong until they try to fire it,” I explained. “And we don’t want to be up here when that happens.”
Alyssa cursed, and I turned to see two guards coming straight towards us. We had to get rid of them before they could sound an alarm. I took aim with my cannon, and the first guard burst into flames. He countered my attack, and a blade of ice pierced my shoulder. Alyssa’s arrow missed its mark, but Arik cut the second mage in two with the Inquisitor. Steam rushed from the cannon in a high-pitched squeal.
“Elinara!” Alyssa cried in warning.
The cannon was going to misfire any second.
“Get out of here!” I shouted.
The first guard had me cornered. Arik refused to leave me.
“Go, Arik, I’ll be right behind you!”
Arik ignored me and started towards the mage with the Inquisitor. I shot the mage, and he crumpled, but there were more coming. I dashed for the platform’s edge.
“Arik! Come on!” I shouted.
* * * * *
When I came to, I was cradled in Arik’s embrace, or rather the Orchid’s, and I was held so tightly I could hardly breathe. When the cannon misfired, the entire platform had collapsed. I struggled from underneath the arm of the Orchid and “reached” for Arik. He was barely conscious, but he was coming around. I heard Alyssa’s voice behind me.
“Is he okay?” she asked, anxiously.
“Yeah, he’ll be all right,” I answered. “What about you and Syrai?”
“That’s it,” I coaxed. “ Come on, Arik; open your eyes.”
Arik groaned and opened his eyes. He slowly righted the Orchid. Our cloaks had been torn to shreds in the explosion. Alyssa’s was the only one still functioning. Without the cloaks we’d be easy targets for the mages. We needed to find the others, but the only other route to them was through the lower decks, and Yaisona had warned us to avoid them if we could. I decided we should take our chances above decks. Hopefully, the chaos caused by the cannon would distract them enough for us to get by.
We climbed through the debris. I cried out in pain, when I wrenched my wounded shoulder. Arik stopped the Orchid, and I felt the warmth of his healing spell wash over me. He asked if Alyssa needed healing, but she said she was a little bruised up, but otherwise okay. We’d gotten halfway through the wreckage that had been the cannon housing when we were attacked by two more mages. Arik was able to kill both of them quickly.
We passed through the last of the debris and into the corridor on the other side. We rounded the corner just as Keesha and two of his guards walked past. Keesha’s guards wasted no time. One of the mages sent a putrid fog to envelop us, while the other augmented Keesha’s defenses. The fog dissipated when Arik swung the Inquisitor at the mage’s head. Unfortunately, Arik missed. Alyssa had better luck with her bow, the mage hunched in agony, as an arrow sprouted from his chest. Arik finished him off. I blasted Keesha with ice from my cannon. His other guard immediately healed him. Arik realized what was happening and cleaved the mage in two with the Inquisitor. I blasted Keesha’s shield with my cannon, and he countered by summoning a fire elemental. The creature came right for me. Flames seared my flesh as I fumbled for my cannon. The elemental disappeared when the icy blast tore into its chest. Arik thundered towards Keesha but froze; the Inquisitor stopped mid arc. Keesha must have cast some sort of slowing spell on him.
Alyssa attacked Keesha, stabbing right through the wall of flames with her pike. She missed his head, but the pike raked down his arm. Alyssa’s cloak crackled and sparked, as the flames licked it. The Invisibility spell broke down. Now that Keesha could see her, he sent a flame elemental after her. Alyssa reeled and almost fell when it struck. I kept blasting away at Keesha’s shields with my ice cannon.
If we could just bring that wall down…
Syrai wailed, and her cries kindled a blaze in Alyssa’s heart. She rushed Keesha slamming her pick through the barrier again and again, heedless of the flames that devoured her. The wall of fire vanished; Keesha was driven to his knees. I sent ice shards ripping into his hunched frame, and he crumpled with a final defiant shriek. The flame elemental disappeared.
Alyssa leaned heavily on her pike, trying to catch her breath. I helped her with Syrai’s carrier. Syrai was frightened, but unhurt. Arik healed Alyssa, and I took a closer look at Keesha’s body. There was a staff lying next to him, but it crumbled to ash when I touched it.
So that’s how he did it.
I turned to Alyssa.
“We need to get moving,” I told her. “Are you okay?”
She nodded, and we continued down the corridor. We came to a barricaded door. When Arik forced it open, we discovered that it had been blocked by a mar seetha. Arik turned to me.
“If Yaisona blocked this door, there must be more mages around,” Arik warned.
I didn’t think Alyssa could face another mage battle, but the only alternative was to go below decks. I didn’t like it, but anything would be better than running into more of Keesha’s ilk. Arik took the lead and vanished into the hold. Alyssa and I heard the clash of sword on metal and narth parts flew onto the deck.
“It’s all clear!” Arik shouted from below.
I hope we don’t regret this…
We walked down catwalks above pools filled with narths. They snapped their jaws as we walked past, but they couldn’t reach us. Further down there were dozens of theotasks bent over their work. A few stared in awe at Arik’s Orchid, but most were too focused on their craft to even notice us. They certainly hadn’t taken notice of anything happening above deck. I leaned over the railing to get a closer look.
“Narths!” I stammered excitedly. “They’re building narths! And crabs…and…and I don’t know what else!”
The gears and springs were every bit as delicate as Ayu’s.
If only Cynn could see this…
“‘Nara!” Arik called.
I reluctantly backed away from the railing. He was right. We had to find the others and get out of here.
We came to the end of the corridor to find the path blocked by two of the largest nashi I’ve ever seen. One of them leapt straight at Arik. He swung the Inquisitor to meet its spring, and the nashi impaled itself on the blade. Mechanis are weak against lightning so I fired a bolt from my psi cannon straight at the other nashi’s face. The lightning arced through its body, stunning it long enough for Alyssa to strike it with her pike. Arik was still struggling with the other nashi, but I couldn’t bolt it while it was impaled on the Inquisitor. Instead I concentrated on making sure the other one wasn’t getting up. It twitched and jerked as I sent bolt after bolt of electricity coursing through its body.
“Elinara!” Alyssa shouted, bringing me back to reality.
I turned to look at her.
“You can stop now. I think it’s dead.”
Arik gave me a strange look.
“I hate nashi,” I muttered.
Arik had already killed the other nashi. The door in front of us opened to reveal an elevator. I guess whoever put the nashi there figured they were enough of a deterrent. I suppose to anyone else, they would’ve been.
We boarded the elevator. After what seemed an eternity, the doors opened to the most incredible laboratory I’ve ever seen. The walls were covered with diagrams and schematics. Viewing scopes and tools worthy of the Ancients covered every surface. One or two experiments ran with a soft whir of gears. I could have stayed there for weeks and still not discovered half of what knowledge lay in that room.
“Come on, ‘Nara!” Arik said, impatiently. “We have to get going.”
I knew Arik was right, but I might never get another chance…
“Elinara, Yaisona and the others are waiting for us,” Alyssa pleaded. “They need our help.”
With a last lingering glance, I followed Alyssa and Arik. Yaisona must have been directing Alyssa. We came out of a corridor to face four mages, who trying to batter down a door. When we appeared, Yaisona opened the door from the other side. Two of the mages fled at the sight of the Orchid. The other two surrendered, and Arik picked them both up and dragged them into the control room.
Everyone looked bruised and ragged but otherwise okay. The crew of the Dawn’s Awakening was there, along with Lorr—and a Trau Quin. The Trau Quin looked much like the ones we’d been shown in the Dreamer’s realm. Only this one was partially mechanical. His name was Anias Quin. Yaisona quickly explained what she could. They’d found the Trau Quin imprisoned with Lorr and the others. They’d located the Dawn’s Awakening in a cargo hold behind the ship, and they were about to set up a reaction that would obliterate the minds of everyone on board who had any psionic ability. I stared Anias Quinn down as I tried to “read” him, but all I could feel from him was a sense of anticipation. He turned to Yaisona.
“You might want to disable Lilan before you set off the reaction,” he advised.
Tentacles snaked into the room as Lilan’s porcelain form dropped down. A familiar feminine voice echoed through the chamber.
Priority One Alpha Maintenance Override—Detain
Anias walked to the center of the room and faced Lilan. He started giving Lilan commands in Maintainer. They went back and forth for several minutes. Then Lilan’s form drooped, and she shut down.
“We have about five minutes,” he announced.
Yaisona looked at him coldly.
“You’ll have to do better,” she told him. “That’s not good enough.”
Anias returned her stare.
“I have studied Lilan for years to be able to shut her down for this long. She’s already routing around the coding I gave her.”
Yaisona’s face took on the faraway look she gets when talking to Mali.
“Turn Lilan back on,” she ordered.
Anias gave Yaisona a long measuring look.
“I do not think that’s wise,” he told her. “Once she is reactivated, I cannot deactivate her again. Lilan is learning.”
“I did not ask for your opinion,” Yaisona told Anias coldly. “Can you reactivate her or not?”
“Reactivate Vae Module,” he called in a clear voice.
Lilan’s coils twitched as she came back to life.
Mali’s form hovered above his sphere in Arik’s pack. He spoke Maintainer to Lilan, and she answered back. They spoke faster and faster till the commands all blurred together. Then Lilan faltered. She couldn’t keep up with Mali. Mali’s form disappeared, and Yaisona turned to Anias.
“Now we don’t have much time.”
Yaisona and Gertrude set Tophetha’s plan in motion. Yaisona turned to the mages who were still struggling in Arik’s grasp.
“If I were you,” she warned, “ I would be off of this ship within the next half a mark.”
Arik dropped them, and they ran. We raced to get to the Dawn’s Awakening. The mages were running in all directions. They were too concerned with the warning klaxons sounding throughout the ship to oppose us.
Twenty minutes later, we were aboard the Dawn’s Awakening. We heard a muffled explosion, and we were wracked with excruciating pain. Lorr and the other theotasks were not harmed, neither was Anias. Anias spoke with the same calm, melancholy tone he’d used on the Crimson Sea.
“You could kill me,” he told us quietly. “I certainly wouldn’t blame you. But you will need me if you are to save your world.”
Anias explained that he had been partners with another Trau Quin named Abbadohn. The Trau Quin were masters of science and technology, but they did not believe in anything they could not measure or quantify. Abbadohn had discovered a new branch of science that enabled him to perform fantastic feats. The other Trau Quin refused to take Abbadohn seriously. What we know of as psionics were completely beyond their belief or comprehension. Anias told us that Abbadohn learned how to communicate with a creature from another world. The creature, which called itself Azra, promised Abbadohn immortality, power, and wealth. In exchange, Abbadohn was to provide Azra and its kindred a way into our world. Azra gave to Abbadohn the means to extend the life of the Trau Quin long beyond their normal span. Only after they had already used the treatments, did they learn that the same process that prolonged their lives also rendered them infertile. Azra promised Abbadohn that he would be ruler of all the worlds beneath the sun’s gaze. Azra showed Abbadohn how to predict the solar flares that endangered the planets of our system. Only when Abbadohn tried to prevent the disaster, he merely succeeded in precipitating it. Only a combined effort of all the races enabled anything of our worlds to be saved. But that was how Azra and her kin had wanted it. Azra fed on the energy that all living creatures possessed. Ordinarily when a creature died, its essence would become part of the planet’s energy and would become part of the energy of other living things. When the six worlds were destroyed, all the energy released by the deaths of their inhabitants was released where Azra and its kindred could feast upon it.
The other races that inhabited the system secretly found ways to thwart Azra and harness the energy back into its original cycle. Ees had a large part in creating this Nominus. Anias became introspective then.
“If I’d listened to Ees, than maybe, things might have turned out differently. But Ees knew all this would happen, but he did nothing—“
Anias shook his head and returned to his tale. He told us that the Trau Quin created a system of checks and balances to enable all of our separate races to coexist. They created mechanical creatures to control the populations of true creatures. They had created Lilan to confiscate all technology beyond a certain level. That way no one race could overpower another. But Azra had other plans for the mechanical creatures. Azra and her kindred could not exist in our world without a physical body. Abbadohn was to create mechanical creatures capable of housing them. Millimaru was a step in that direction. Maru was created to see whether organic energy could reside in a mechanical form. Anias said that Maru was also part of Ees’s plan.
Anias and Abbadohn used Millimanti’s weakness to carry out the next phase of Abbdohn’s plan. They exposed the Saturii’s affair and pressured the Saturii Council to order Millimari’s death. Then they substituted the prototype they’d created of Millimari.
Even the Summoning Vessels had been part of Abbadohn’s plan. He had brought the Invaders to Kh’aosii. Over time, he had destroyed all evidence of the Revenants’ past. Many Revenants had been born into the world and died never knowing who they truly were. He used our former selves to create the Summoning Vessels. We were so ignorant of our own heritage that we had no idea that we were helping to create a portal for Azra.
Now Abbadohn’s machinations are almost complete. He has been collecting priceless Saturii blood for centuries. He has started up the factories to create the hosts for Azra. Once they have those bodies, they can conquer not only Kh’aosii but other worlds as well.
For the first time, bitterness crept into Anias’s voice. Despite their increased lifespan most of his people were now dead, many at the hands of the Saturii. In fact, as far as he knew he and Abbadohn were the last of his people. Abbadohn had figured out a way to outsmart Azra. Azra had given Abbadohn the means to predict the solar flares that endangered Kh’aosii. There would soon be another such cataclysm. Abbadohn planned to take the one ship remaining in Kh’aosii that was capable of leaving the system. He would leave Azra and her kindred behind to be destroyed by the solar flares.
Anias wasn’t telling us any of this out of concern for our world, but rather in revenge. He found out that Abbadohn planned to abandon Anias on Kh’aosii. I thought about what Teriine had said about Azra choosing to possess people She already had ties to. Whatever secrets Abbadohn had thought to keep from Azra, I doubted they will remain so once She overshadows his mind.
Yaisona asked Arik to keep watch over Anias. Although it is clear that we will need him, it is equally clear that we can’t trust him. Yaisona suggested we reunite with Second Dawn then head for the Nefeln Islands. No one will think to look for us there, and we will have time to recover and prepare for our final battle. Though with Azra in control of all of the technology of the alpha maintainers, no amount of preparation may be enough.