20: LOST MINDS

We never got an answer to who his friend was.  Frankly, we didn’t get any more information.  Priest Entity Nada stopped talking after he gave us the instructions.  And when I asked Aria what the instructions were, she told me I’d find out soon enough.  Now that was encouraging.

We descended to the first small lifeless moon.  Landing the White Squid on a dry, dusty clearing beside a towering cliff of ancient volcanic rock.

“Watch your step while we’re outside.  Low gravity equates to leaps and bounds,” Aria said.

As we left the White Squid I paused to look up.  The immense cliff was as smooth as glass and scary as hell.  I turned my head in both directions to see it stretch out into the lonely night.  It stood out unnaturally on this desolate, bleak moon. An enchanted wall holding back a sea of thoughts filled with past fears, like a mirror ready to shatter and release what’s been forgotten.

A strange, rumbling sound crawled its way up through my legs, along my spine and into my head.  The dead moon wasn’t so dead after all.  There was seismic activity below ground, and to prove it, fumaroles had pocketed the surface and were spewing hot gas.  The low gravity and non-existent atmosphere, however, meant those vapors were lost to space above.  And you would have to notice them first.  No air, no sound, only gentle vibrations.  I started humming, then words magically popped into my head and I started singing, “I’m picking up good vibrations.”  Great, I was losing my mind.  But it felt like a memory, like music I knew; it was so familiar.  Both Aria and Kailo stopped and turned to look at me.

“Oh!  Nice tune friend, not know that one, but Kailo want to learn strange song.”

Aria smiled.  “There should be an entrance nearby, look for an opening, a cave possibly.”

“All I see are steam vents,” I replied.

“The moon’s active, and by that, I mean it’s volcanic.  So, there’s a lot of heat, earthquakes and lava, which adds up to danger.  We need to stay alert,” she said.

The three of us had turned on our torches and began to scan the wall.  My hands were sweating.  I noticed the readings on my helmet’s HUD display seventy-two.  It was getting warm in my exosuit.  Radiation and toxicity were high, too.  The atmosphere read silent, meaning it was virtually nonexistent.  There was nothing to breathe beyond some dust and toxic steam near the vents.  All three of us had topped up our oxygen and life support.  We had taken extra supplies, since we had no idea how long we would be.

The Priest had mentioned we would need to defeat the Dancer in the Wind.  But there was no wind here, no air.  So, I wasn’t too confident we would hear much singing beyond Kailo, who was trying to hum my ‘good vibrations’ tune in his exosuit.

“Over here!” Aria cried.

We turned to see a small opening in the ground beside the cliff wall.  Kailo shone his torch into the hole in the ground.  There were actual steps, roughly cut into the rock or worn away over time, spiralling down into a borehole.

“Kailo lead, friends follow.”

That was fine by me.  Kailo led, Aria followed, and I followed Aria.  Wondering, as we slowly descended, what I was doing here and how everything was changing so rapidly.  So much had happened since I met both Kailo and Aria.  Why was I so concerned for the fate of Aria, why was she the only thing that mattered?  I knew Kailo felt the same way.  My memories, were they lost?  Or were they hidden behind a mirror?  Would it break, would I remember again, like some dream one wakes from.  But I was someone before, and for some reason, which I couldn’t fathom, I felt Aria was connected to my past. And through her and by helping her, I would, I might, one day know.  Know what had happened to me.

I felt someone squeeze my hand.  “Why have you stopped?  Come on, let’s keep going,” Aria said.

She led me down, still holding my hand.  Even through our thick gloves, I felt as though I was touching a bare hand, felt something warm and alive.

As we descended, the temperature readings slowly changed.  Sixty-four, then after a while, forty-five.  By the time we had reached the bottom it was a cool twenty-three.

Our torches revealed we were in a long tunnel.  It had been bored through with precision by tools or machines.

“Who made this?” I asked.

Both Aria and Kailo looked at the walls.

“Very accurate work, machines, precise machines.  But I can’t be certain until I see something to indicate who or what made this,” Aria said.

“Kailo found something, look!”  Kailo had picked up a strange, charred devise covered in dust with wires dangling off it like singed hair.

“It’s part of an Aeron, a Sentinel,” Aria noted as she tried to clean part of its surface.  “With old markings.  Very old markings.  It looks like one of the first…, their origin, however, is conjecture.”

“What do you mean?”  I asked.

“There seems to be so much mystery behind their origin, and what we know about their purpose is speculation.  They keep the balance, so to say.  In earlier times they were quite passive, but after the Aeron wars, well, let’s just say they changed, becoming more malevolent.  In worlds where the war never reached, they are still passive, if you don’t bother them.  In others, where they survived, they will attack you on site.”

“Yes!  Vy’keen almost won war, almost defeat sentinels,” Kailo added.

Aria found more pieces under the dust.  “These parts look like remnants from the war.  There was fighting down here, a battle fought long ago.  We best be cautious while moving through this tunnel.  We have no idea what to expect.  If any are still active, they might attack us.”

Both Kailo and I reached for our multi-tools, which Aria found amusing, but refrained from commenting.

Aria had taken the lead through the tunnel.  We moved slowly, trying to avoid stepping on more sentinel parts littering the floor.  The walls were covered in black smears and shattered holes from beam lasers and blaster fire.

Finally, we came across two corpses lying face down on the tunnel floor.  Vy’keen warriors, long dead.  Their humanoid, skeletal remains were still preserved in the vacuum of their exosuits.  Further ahead, sprawled out across the end of the tunnel, the remains of a giant metallic goliath.  Here, one Sentinel had made its final valiant stand.  The two Vy’keens had managed to defeat all the Sentinels easily, except for the last one.  A giant Bipedal Walker, which by the look of it, had all the metal shielding blasted off its two steel legs.

“Plasma shells, only way to damage legs on tall tin box.  Boom! Boom!  Tall box fall!” Kailo said a bit too loudly, as his voice echoed out ahead into the darkness.

“As it fell, its sweeping laser cut through the Vy’keen’s exosuits.  They didn’t have a chance.  The Walker couldn’t get up, so time and injury finally defeated the giant,” Aria said.

Since the tunnel was blocked, we had no choice but to climb over the Walker.  Its cold metal surface felt sinister, remorseless and soulless.  You couldn’t help but think it was about to spring back to life and zap us.  I felt the tension ease as we left it behind.

Further ahead, the tunnel seemed to vanish in a veil of mist that crawled out of the ground.  The mist reflected the lights from our torches back into our visors, making it hard to navigate.  We had to shine the light down at our feet, slowing our progress, which soon enough was halted by a large, square block of stone obstructing our path.  Parts of the stone had been damaged.  No one spoke as our torches fell on the stone.  A monolith, revealing a strange writing carved on its face, each symbol pulsating in red.  The damaged parts were illegible.

I broke the silence.  “Can anyone read this?”

“Old.  Gek.  Evil words, bad times, very bad,” Kailo replied.

“First Spawn,” Aria added.

“I think we’d best move away from here,” I said, getting a bad feeling standing so close to the monolith.

Kailo’s eyes seemed frozen on the glowing red symbols.

“Fear…  First Spawn…  Holy Balaron…  Tide of Blood…  Spring Forth… ATTACK!”  Kailo cried out, sending a shiver through my body.

Our torches flickered and went out.  A sudden quake followed and the ground rumbled.  I heard a crack break through the stone as our torches lit up again in time to see the monolith shatter into rubble.  The impenetrable mist slipped away into multiple fractures that appeared all around us.  Ahead, light shards shot up in the dark revealing a huge cavern.  A giant structure towered in the centre.  On both its sides were stone paths of low steps lined with pillars, six on each side, where light glowed near the base of each.  At the foot of the giant structure was a circular hole, like a porthole bearing unmistakable glyphs along the rounded frame.

“It’s a portal,” Aria said.

“A portal?  But there’s only a hole in the monolith,” I stated, fascinated by the silent gate.

“It’s inactive.  Portals, once activated, lead to other worlds.  Others have even said to other galaxies.  I can’t say for certain how true that is,” Aria said.

At that moment we both felt something was amiss.  We looked around, realizing not something, but rather someone was gone.

“Where’s Kailo? I asked.

“Look!” Aria cried.

A small figure stood at the far end of the structure, obscured by shadow and light.  The sound of stone grinding against stone could be heard.  We watched as a cylindrical plinth rose from the edge of the steps.

“It’s Kailo, but how…” Aria hesitated for a moment.  She called, “Kailo, what are you…”

A high energy bolt blast struck Aria’s shoulder, cindering her exosuit and sending her sprawling to the ground.  She lay groaning in pain.  Shocked, I fell to my knees and grabbed her, trying to shield her from another blast.

“Kailo!  Have you lost your mind?”  I cried out.  My head spun round to see Kailo was pressing down on the circular panel of the plinth.

“He hasn’t only lost his mind,” Aria said groaning in pain.  “He’s lost his soul.”

Part of the plinth had divided in half, the top half floating directly above its base.  The twelve pillars had also split from their base and were also hovering, defying gravity.  A blue glow from the plinth’s surface revealed Kailo’s distorted face.  What was wrong with him?  I was grateful he had at least stopped shooting at us and was focused on activating the panel.

A sinister emerald glow initiated the portal ring, revealing sixteen glyphs.  With each press a giant gong rung, and the portal spun, positioning one of the strange glyphs at the top of the gate.

“We have to help him,” Aria said, trying to get to her feet.  I noticed a red glow on her chest.

“He tried to kill you!”

“Not Kailo, the Gek stone, the one that shattered.  It was cursed, possessed.  Kailo has been infected by some First Spawn evil.  An ancient entity imprisoned in the black stone.  Kailo released it, unknowingly summoned it, and it broke out, took control of his mind,” Aria explained, while trying to stand.

“You’re hurt, I need to see to your shoulder,” I insisted.

“There’s no time, I’ll heal.  We need to get to Kailo.  Help me stand up.”

As I helped Aria to her feet, I heard a final high-pitched gong.  Kailo had activated the final glyph.  A terrible deafening roar filled the cavern, emanating from the monolith as the portal sprung to life.  The ring of glyphs spun blindly round as a blue sphere of wild electric light and plasma filled the portal.  The ground shook as a tempest filled the cavern.  I watched in fear as the plasma in the portal sphere suddenly poured out like an insane beast trying to escape the confines of its prison, desperately grasping at anything to consume, finding nothing, and finally succumbing to its fate and collapsing back into its lost imprisonment.  Kailo walked into the portal and disappeared.

“Quick, we have to get to the portal before it closes,” Aria said.

Supporting Aria, we approached the portal.  “Is this safe?”  I asked.

“It doesn’t matter, we don’t have a choice.”

Finding renewed strength, Aria led us into the portal.


Let your mind alone, and see what happens.

Virgil Thomson