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  “They don't seem to be coming back,” the Probability Knight tutted. It had been hours since he’d sent the assault force down. Oppressive silence was his only return so far.

“They're probably dead, excellency,” the Guild secretary told him.

“I'm the future predictor around here. They're dead when I say they're dead,” he reminded her sharply.

“Right you are,” she said, unbothered by this posturing. Instead, she patiently watched him tap away on his calculator. 

“Yep, they’re dead," he told her. The Knight scrutinized his calculator. The secretary could almost hear his brow furrowing behind his helmet.

"Also, ‘twas not fire that killed them. It was... gravity? What in Builder's name is going on in there?!”

“I have no idea, excellency,” the secretary said, shrugging. “Maybe a gravity-warping monstrosity crawled up from the lower floors?”

“This is an unexpected turn of events”, said the Knight, whose profession engendered a natural hatred of unexpected turns of events. “How do we defend against gravity? I expected fire. Dragons and their underlings are sub-human beasts, so we anticipated their innate bestiality,” The knight grumbled.

“Bestiality how?” asked  the secretary nervously. This was the first time she’d heard anything about any bestiality. 

“They’re mere beasts, so we were prepared for attacks with claws, teeth, and brute strength,” the Knight explained distractedly, still preoccupied by the gravity incident. 

“Right. Bestiality. Of course,” the secretary said in tones of great relief, visibly relaxing. 

. . .

Error found herself standing amidst a barren plain littered with black steel ruins. Her kobold eyes which could normally see perfectly in the dark struggled to focus. She looked up and was hit with vertigo when she realized there was no cave ceiling. There was nothing at all. The sky was a lightless vacuum.

Icy wind ripped the warmth out of her. She turned towards the wind, and saw a vast, desolate field of shattered hexagons reaching from horizon to horizon. Error shivered and wrapped her hands around her body. She looked out over the broken hexagons, and felt immeasurable grief pouring into her from somewhere else. For the first time in her life she knew how it felt to be truly forgotten, her last traces erased from the world. It was a death beyond death, a loneliness beyond loneliness. She sank to her knees.

The wind whistled through the hexagonal shapes, standing at attention like endless legions of gloomy soldiers, its howling moan forming coherent tones. The whistling tune pulsed through Error’s body and she could feel it resonate within the depths of her mind. She knew that it was a song written by the Inians, from a time before the world was reforged by the celestial power of the Starhammer. 

Error's heartbeat pulsed in sync with the song. On her knees on the cold and lifeless wasteland, she swayed to a tune that no one had heard in millenia.

Sparks of light began to flicker in the wind, swirling and coalescing in front of her, forming a strange shape of arcing and snapping energy. As Error tried to make sense of what it was, it became more solid, taking a bipedal form. Slabs of black steel rose from the field, cloaking the figure in hexagonal plates of armor.

The ghost spoke in a cold female voice. “Thanks for choosing me.”

“I didn’t choose any spooky ghost pals.” Error grumbled. “Who are you?”

“I'm Eva. I will end all who stand in your way.” The ghost offered a hand made of black shrapnel. Error looked at the hand, not moving. She knew better than to shake hands with the Eldritch abominations. A deep, atavistic fear pinned her in place. This was not kobold-fear infecting her new body. This was dragon-fear, fear cold enough to smother the dragonfire furnace in her heart. 

"Where are we?" Error demanded. 

"This is a memory of the world after the moon fell to earth. A memory of a winter that never ended. Welcome to my home."

“I don’t care about your tragic backstory," Error said. She watched the ghost glide around her, black metal hexagons shifting and rippling silently as she moved. The spirit’s body changed, growing smaller, narrower. It stood in front of her for a moment, and Error realized the ghost had taken on her proportions.

The spirit regarded her silently for a second, and then lunged forward and grabbed Error by the rear. She jumped back as the icy hands clamped onto her cheeks.

“Why!?” Error squawked in indignation and panic. 

“This is the ancient Inian pact-making rite,” the ghost explained, but that didn’t really explain anything for Error, at all. “Your mortal body is where I live now,” The ghost added. A blue grin flickered in the empty space beneath the black armor.

“Look here, ghost. You don’t grope a dragon! Get out of my personal space!” Error tried to shove the ghost away and found out that she could not, her claws skittering against an impervious, ice-rimmed surface.

“We walked together in death. We were anointed by the blood of our enemies,” the ghost scoffed. “You don’t get to whinge about personal space. We unmade life, you and I. The pact is sealed.” The metallic voice of the ghost rang inside Error’s head.

“I don’t recall signing onto any ghost pacts,” Error sniffed.

Eva twisted her armored head like an owl, hexagonal forms sliding into themselves as she stared at something behind Error. "Then, perhaps you require a reminder?"

She let go of Error, who stumbled back, rubbing the cold handprints on her butt, and then turned around. 

A kobold was staggering across the plains through the dark, feet dragging over metal refuse. Where the head should have been was a cloud of shattered bone and shredded tissue, held frozen in the moment of explosion. The corpse shuffled towards her with open arms. "You are mine by right…" Screw's corpse gurgled. Its shattered head swirled about grotesquely.

Error tried to run but stepped into Eva’s cold embrace. The metal arms closed around her like a snare. The cold burned her scales. Eva laughed, and grabbed hold of Error’s hands. Her jagged, knife-like fingers slid through Error’s crystalline scales, seeking to latch onto the quivering soul beneath.

. . . 

Error woke up whimpering, curled up in the pile of gold. She clutched the burning-cold Inian railgun to her chest.

“Error! My Emergency Chief!” Agate was hopping around her like a flustered gecko, sending treasure clattering every which way. “Are you injured?”

Error glared at Agate, blinking away the nightmare. “I’m fine.”

“Right, Dragons don’t cry.” Agate nodded, backing away from Error’s glare.

Error stood up and tried to let go of the gun, and found that she could not bear to part with it; it was if this gun was her only protection, her only ally. She sighed resignedly, going to where the holster had been left after the claiming ceremony. The weapon slipped effortlessly into the strange black material, which appeared to be all one unmarked, unstitched piece. It cinched perfectly onto her hips and, once there, felt like a comforting, weightless presence.  She would definitely deal with this problematic, gun-clinging feeling later.

“Great, I’m haunted by an ancient abomination.” She muttered to herself.

Error turned back to Agate.

“Speaking of abominations... any visitors from Down Below? Surely they have smelled all the blood by now.”

The portal Ognevika guarded was a two-way passage. The creatures from the lower realms generally had no interest in the world above the portal, but they could be enticed by enough tasty death and violence.

Agate nodded, leading Error towards the Deep Gate.

A group of three pale, unnatural looking monks in checkered robes stood beneath the formidable stone gate. Error scoffed at the inorganic monster-constructs. She didn’t consider them alive. To her they were things, animated matter crassly held together with the power of Deep. These things had no soul, no set shape, only an idea, a concept that held them together.

“Greetings, koboldians,” one of the checkered monks intoned. “We, the papercraft adepts of Nnnnnnnnnnnnnn, have been summoned from the Deep by the rousing concentration of spilled human life-essence,”. The monk flowed towards Error, a million papery feet flashing beneath its robe. One of its comrades rushed up behind it, tapping its shoulder insistently. 

“No, you ignoramus! It's pronounced EnEnEnenenenene.”

“Excuse my colleagues, it's actually EHHHhhhhhhhhhnnn.” The third checkered monk added.

“WHAT? NO! Your papery tongues will wither from such non-correctness.”
The first monk shouted, and shoved the third, who shoved back with a furious papery rustle. The second monk started swinging at both of the others. Pages flew as they tried to rip each other apart.

Error grabbed one loose page and tried to read it.

“,v               rtf               nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn                                                                            ///sfgmj
n                                                  n

Error sighed.

“I don’t know what I expected. Deep Memetic adepts are the worst.”

“They... aren’t on the same page, are they?” Agate smiled.
 
“Not many wise thoughts in those paper-brains.” Error agreed, allowing a small smirk.

“Oh yeah? Well you're made of meats!” The monks stopped brawling to berate her.

“Meats are grosssss!”

“You’re nothing but meats that eat meats! Nasty! Just look at yourselves!”

With this, the paper monks shifted shapes, taking the forms of kobolds.

“Heh. Paper kobolds. Very cute.” Error grinned. “Say… how many N’s was it?”

“It's many eeennnsssss!”

“No it's infinite nnnsssss!”

“The Ns can only be counted by those who believe!”

The Adepts of N once again began to rip each other apart. After a couple of minutes, the mood of the grapple shifted. Suddenly, Error realised, they weren’t... quite... fighting anymore.

“Oh my,” Agate squeaked with a blush.

Error glanced at Agate. She wasn’t sure what there was to be so embarrassed about. After all, all minions had to breed. This paper-breeding felt rather fake if anything, as Error knew that papercraft abominations were crafted by the weird magic of the infinite N, not bred. After a moment of observing the scene before her, inspiration struck. She grabbed hold of Agate.

“You can draw, right?”

Agate nodded, confused.

Error pointed at the paper kobolds.

“Commit this to memory and draw later. I want a sequence. I'll make a flipbook...”

She eyed the hoard.

“There's a book replicator somewhere in here. Redistribution of imagery! Motivational propaganda! Why don't dragons think of these things?”

Error started to pace, moving on from animated pornography towards grander plans.

“Sharing of information. Higher Kobold standard of living, achieved through means of artifacts!” Yes, these were good plans. They kept her mind off of the gun and the problem of the ghost pact.

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About the author

Vitaly S Alexius

  • Canada
  • Archbishop of Captania and sovereign territories
  • https://www.rom.ac

Bio: I was born in the year 1984, in the 4th most polluted city of Soviet Union - Novokuznetsk of Siberian Russia.
On April 11/1997 fate has given me an unexpected twist and by means of aerial transportation I was thrown 5555 miles across the Atlantic Ocean to Ontario, Canada, wherein I currently preside in an 1890 Presbyterian church and partake in writing and drawing things.

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