Episode 0: National Awakening/Season of Hell
The Torchia War ended with a black fog-like mass covering nearly one half of the planet. There are many possibilities to what this could be; fifty percent of the population, along with His Knowledge the Machine-Emperor Brien I, thinks it is the planet’s way of telling that it is quite sick, despite our technology running on wind, solar, hydrogen and biogas. The other remaining forty percent thinks that the fog heralds the return of a mythological creature called The Beast and the last remaining ten percent do not know what the fog may represent.
“There will be a forty-four-point nine percent to thirty-two percent chance that the fog will consume this country of Stygia by the end of a three-year cycle.” I pointed out in a hoarse whisper to no one, weakened by awakening near the misty black force-field blocking one part of Stygia from the rest of our world. I was sent by my own curiosity to investigate the possible end of the Torchia War as a false emissary, despite the obvious dangers it presented itself. I smelled the lingering scent of burning solder in the cloudy afternoon, after what I foolishly assumed was the rain’s passing. There was blood on me. A large amount of it. I racked my aching lungs with coughs as I gasped for air and threw up crimson, staining my lips with blood in the painful process.
“The inevitability of death removes what remains of your purpose, do you want to lose the purpose that remains inside yourself?” I looked down at with my straining eyeballs at the pair of angular, metal feet prodding parts of my head. A machine, perhaps?
“No. If I do, I would be of no use.” I croaked, hearing nothing else after but the sounds of distortion and buzzing. The stranger prodded my broken body with his foot of steel once more to make sure that I was “still there” in terms of consciousness.
“Come on, get up.” His voice was a knife to my ears, a tenor turned sharp. My body refused to budge with all the pain and joints at the most wrong of angles. Like a broken doll. The tapping of his feet mirroring his lack of patience with me got closer to my bruised head, even the point of his feet was poking at the back of my head in a constant rhythm, threatening to dig into soft, vulnerable tissue.
“I said, get up.” He reached down and yanked me harshly upward by the collar of my tattered uniform, regardless of my frailties. My heartbeat and adrenal glands soared into a semi-working order the first time I saw his face; an oval of burnished copper glinting in the weak sunlight, with a light blue hologram of a mask from a masquerade ball for a “face”and flat tentacles resembling a mockery of human hair. The rest of his body were hidden by thick metal ribbons curling loosely around his limbs like armor, decorated further by tiny inscriptions written in mysterious symbols. His hand holding me up and leaving me to dangle were like claws with sharpened fingers, with more of those curlicues on his wrists.
“Come closer, let me mend your wounds.” sharpened steel tentacles slowly emerged from his back, some of them controlled to incapacitate my jerky movements, others piercing the layers of clothing, flesh and bone to get to the deeper wounds at my back and the head wounds inflicted to the back of my head. I gasped in pain, feeling the coldness of steel burrowing inside. The burrowing into my brain stopped. The mask of a face displayed interest as arcs of energy wrapped around the halted tentacles of steel and faded.
“Just a spark is enough to set these latent abilities on fire.” What is he going on about? I thought there was no such thing! My thoughts were severed, my wounded body was wracked in uncontrollable spasms, but healed. The first thing I did after his release was stand straighter and breathed. Everything was fixed except for my uniform, the back of it was ripped from the shoulder, just stopping above the lower back displaying…
“What are these mar-” I started.
“Tattoos. They will help you as what we Masters call the Marks of… Awakening. Do you remember your name… Maria?” The tentacles were still present. Strange… He had something I had to get, something I wanted.
“Will you help me?” The hologram of a face smiled and flickered off, allowing the blank ovoid to shimmer and ripple, a beak where the mouth would be surfaced along with three eyes arranged in a triangle pattern from the nothingness, parting the steel like a hand through water with easy grace. The eyes showed the different colours of blue, red and gold, flickering on to lock with my own orbs of brown.
“Yes… You are the first Manipulator ever to see my true face. Will you help me?” I wondered what he meant by helping him, clearly this one is already powerful amongst his peers? The unnamed one waited in patience, boring through me with all of his eyes.
“Yes.” An honest, solemn oath came forth from my lips. After all, he saved my life through his brutality. He nodded slowly.
“Kneel before me, Maria Stevens. Forget who you were, and pledge yourself to me, become my Apprentice.” I dropped to one knee and felt his cold hand on my brow, the world’s movement slowing down and a sense of slowly dissolving into liquid as I became something else entirely. A gleam on his little finger hinted of a ring decorating the digit.
“As your Apprentice I will receive knowledge; knowledge is power. I am Maria Stevens no longer.” I felt the claw-like fingers of his hand dig into skin near my brow, drawing blood that trickled down one side of my face, staining my partly braided pageboy cut royal purple hair with red. I am nothingness moulded into matter, I am given purpose.
“Now and forevermore, you will be… Syfa Illmatar.” He removed the bloodstained left hand from my bleeding brow and brought the cold palm of his hand before me. Judging from the ring, the whole thing was… obvious. I held the hand and felt the coldness, studied the flawlessness of it as I brought the hand to my lips and kissed the ring on the last finger. The ring formed around my middle finger was of burnished copper with a cross with the four points decorated with aquamarine placed at the top-center of it,with a crucified machine figure placed in it.
“I thank you, my Master.” Yes, something has changed. Me. The thought dissipated quickly as the world wrenched back for the controllable power of Time. Righting itself.
“Rise, Syfa Illmatar.” The Master’s bird-face changed into the familiar holographic mask, with the smile of a blissful maniac gracing it.
“Do not believe such rumors of the loss of sanity regarding our names and knowing them, since they are quite untrue. I am the Fourth Master Ghayth. But you will address me as Master.” I gave a slight nod in the world of the dusk, being consumed by a moving field much darker than it.
“Yes Master.” My voice was no longer varied, it was a comfortable monotone of which the Master himself noticed. I looked back from where I was and saw what remained of her: fading footsteps in the barren sand.
“You are changing, she was someone else entirely. It is best to forget and let The Other to die and fade away.” The warning was rather light-hearted, but carried a deeper meaning… for me.