With the distractions by Creta and Lyra, Alta slipped through their noose and proceeded deeper into the box canyon. For all that she was intrigued that the Monster Prince was the opponent chosen for Lyra while three of their other haymakers were used on Creta, she kept her eyes forward. If she managed to accomplish her mission, all of this would end. The rest didn’t matter so much.
Creta would be fine without her, Alta thought bitterly. She always had been.
There were a few guards, which Alta reduced to ash on sight, but most of the forces were behind in the ever-growing melee. Even as Alta rushed forward, she could feel the cracks and booms of battle shake the entire canyon. Small pebbles dislodged and fell down the walls, hopping and skipping into her path.
Something to watch, Alta reflected, eyeing the canyon walls carefully. Truly, just as the Monster Prince hadn’t thought about what to do with the carts, Alta hadn’t thought about what would happen if their fighting destroyed the canyon and collapsed tons of stone on top of the ruins.
It would be quite awkward to fight off the other factions while the excavated the runes that Alta needed to work. A strange reversal of their current position that Alta hoped to avoid.
When Alta rounded the next corner, she stopped. Because there they were.
With trembling hands that couldn’t even be hidden by her largely metal body, she traced the runes that covered the ground. They spiraled and twisted together in strange patterns, drawing the fabric of this world.
Well, that wasn’t accurate, Alta reflected as she picked her way through the deserted ruins. This was not the origin of this world.
Whatever these were, it spoke to the origin of the Progenitor himself. A smaller and simpler genesis, but with far-reaching repercussions.
Very quickly, Alta’s expression turned sour. She took stock of the area.
The runes were only in a thirty meter in diameter circle. There were strangely shaped protuberances covered in the thin impressions, and then several dozen meters of flat ground that had been carefully swept.
Another rumble moved through the canyon floor. Alta grimaced; better to get to work then.
In the center of the runes was the most densely packed of the runes. They spiraled together and formed a circle that could only be described as a door. It was due to that resemblance that the other factions believed that it was possible to use the door to pass to another, better world. The Progenitor’s world. A world that wasn’t floating on a sea that would destroy them all. One that wasn’t afflicted by fickle seasons and unpredictable calamities.
Which was foolish, Alta knew.
Based on her research and her experience in the prior runes, there still existed a connection between the Progenitor and the world. It was a spiritual connection of indeterminate strength; there was no real way to test the extent of the connection from within the world. But it was clear that things the Progenitor did affected the world. By extension, things that happened here should affect the Progenitor.
What the Monster Prince and his ilk wanted to do was flood this side of the connection with energy. Hopefully, that would cause a commiserate amount of energy from the Progenitor. With energy flooding from both sides… well, this was where Alta lost any sort of faith in their plan.
With energy flowing from both sides, the other people hoped a portal would be established. A connection that it would be possible to physically pass through. Or at the very least, the energy would flood into this world and rid it of the endless Sea of Annihilation below. Which is why Alta couldn’t support such a plan.
In addition, Alta had lived a life that had seen everything precious she possessed ripped away for the greedy satisfaction of others. If there really was a Progenitor, he had let such things happen without lifting a finger. Atla’s story was one of thousands that were torn apart by a force she had no hope of resisting. And the world grew increasingly strange as the Progenitor’s actions warped the core of the world to destructive tendencies.
If you want destruction, Alta thought bitterly. I’ll give it to you.
In her chest, heat slowly built. She called on the image of Ash that she held close to herself every moment of the day and it answered. Heat flowed through her and into the runes below. It was a balancing act because the shallow nature of the markings made it so they could hold very little energy. But Alta had practiced a lot for this moment.
And she was very, very good.
Alta’s plan started the same as the other plan. Fill the connection between the world and the Progenitor with energy. Draw the reaction. Then, their viewpoints diverged. Rather than hoping for some sort of arc that would carry them away from their doom, Alta accepted the doom of the world. She just wanted to drag the Progenitor down with them.
She would ignite the energy and burn the connection to ashes. They would be severed, totally and completely. Alta didn’t concern herself with the details of the fall out because she didn’t care. What she wanted was to make the fickle and thoughtless god who had created this world pay. Afterward, Alta would be at peace. She didn’t care what would happen then.
That was her and Creta’s answer to the god who had asked impossible things of them.
Her eyes glowed with glee as the runes slowly began to emit light. From the outside, working inwards, light traveled through the runes slowly, flowing like water.
Brighter and brighter on the ground, hotter and hotter in her chest as she drew more and more from the ashen image. It was pain, but a welcome one. Just a bit more, and-
The energy reached the central area, the door. The ground cracked and dissolved, and Alta fell with the broken pieces of the runes into the area below.
“PROGENITOR’S SLIMY DICK!” Alta swore, struggling to right herself after crashing to the ground. There were a few nearby boulders that she smashed into that she burnt into bubbling slime in her fury. If the runes were broken, then she wouldn’t be able to-
The air around her flickered, and then like a hazy mist, another world appeared before her eyes. It was somewhat like the dreaming of the highest Land, but this was a shallow and weak reflection that Alta was seeing currently. It hung around like the ghost of clothing over the caves she was in, but she could clearly see the cave system around her.
She was in a room. The colors of the ghost room were bright and eye-catching. But it was a small room. In the room, with Alta, there was a figure. Male. His hair was short and dark. From his stance, he was furious with Alta. And suddenly Alta realized there was a ghost on her too. She was someone else, in this dream world. She was the Progenitor.
She wore his limbs like a strange coat. They shifted and moved with her as she raised the pale and fuzzy hand in wonder.
The male figure was shouting, ghostly words that held no weight. No sound reached Alta’s ears. Heedless, she walked to a mirror on the far wall of the short room. The mirror itself was fuzzy, but the reflection was crystal clear: a pale-faced, ten-year-old Alta stared back at her out of her fuzzy body.
Such was the shock that Alta couldn’t look away for several seconds. The other Alta’s eyes widened.
Then Alta twisted and sprinted away, running out of the small room. She ran down ghostly stairs to the ground floor with long windows, but then she continued running downward. Her ghostly feet knew where she needed to go. There was a door, and then a long hallway. A tunnel through the ground. The air here was so heavy it was difficult to breathe.
The heat in Alta’s chest was unbearable. The fabric of the dream seemed to hum as Alta proceeded farther down the hallway.
Eventually, she reached a spot in the hallway that was different. The dream was singing around her, a distant song. And on the ground, a mirror of the runes above, this time spun in gold and glowing with the power to-
“Welcome to the beginning.”
Alta spun around. The dream was gone, and now she was in a deep cave with a strange emerald illumination from pools of glowing liquid. The runes were still there, a mirror of the faded runes above done artfully in gold, the true runes that were the core of this land. And sitting next to the runes were two Earth Golems.
“At least that’s what I’ve been told. This is the spot the Progenitor was born.” The female Earth Golem looked to the scarred male, who nodded and folded his arms. The woman turned back to Alta. “I’m not very religious, you understand. But I believe in what I can see, and I can certainly see the power of this place.”
“Who are you?” Alta whispered, staring at the two of them. She could feel the power of their images even now. They would not be easy opponents.
The man grinned, stretching the scars across his face. “I am the knife that will end you, abomination. You will not destroy the Progenitor’s work. Before your device arrives, we shall end you.”
“We are the blood of Carthak,” The woman said softly. “The blood blessed by the Progenitor. I am not normally the violent sort, but… we will stop you. Without your precious machines or mechs, we-”
Alta began to laugh. The heat was growing worse in her chest. She felt the urge to cough, even though her physical esophagus had been replaced long ago. She laughed for almost a minute, while the two Earth Golems watched.
Finally, she forced herself to stop; continuing was too painful. Finally, she could admit it. Finally, she could speak of the sacrifice she had made for her and Creta’s dream and never spoken a word of.
Not even to Creta. Especially not to Creta. Because she wouldn’t understand. “My… device? The machinery above…? Fools. Do you know for how long I’ve dreamt of this day? How long I’ve waited….? How long I’ve planned?!? Of course you don’t…”
The heat at Alta’s core grew unbearable as the furnace in her chest began firing on all cylinders. The cloak around her began to smolder and burn away. “There is no device… because I’ve made myself into the key that will tear this all down. I am your dreaded device. Lament, because your prayers have gone unanswered. You are too late to stop me.”