Dauntless: Origins



Chapter 72 - Relics of the Past


A note from Jartor

Happy Thanksgiving!

And if you don't celebrate US holidays, I'll celebrate the fact that you're alive and presumably have access to the internet instead :)

Iscari removed 'it' from his dimensional ring. A relic. An illegal, contraband one at that. The Confessions of Ellemar. If the Book of Solomon hadn't had the answers for Tyr, this might. A tome he'd stolen from his fathers study long ago, though too afraid to read it. One of his few if only acts of rebellion in his though, so ashamed that he'd done it and for no reason at all other than to disobey. He had a feeling Octavian knew. His father was uncanny like that, but he'd never said anything about it.

Tyr had been blunt and honest with all of them after being dragged off by Iscari. Explaining his congenital condition to the others, though the prince of Varia noted a great deal of information had been omitted from his confession. It was wise. Iscari's friend was normally thoughtless and impulsive, but he refrained from giving away the secret of world energy, how it related to anima, and how it shaped all living things.

This was good. Contrary to Tyr's understanding, it wasn't some closely guarded secret. It was no different than a blueprint for greatness The blueprint for greatness, and to access it one needed to truly self reflect, something few were capable of. Nobody hunted down those who knew of it, but those who abused the power might find themselves at the receiving end of an axe... Or worse. Men who did became machines of death, seeking their power through the lives of others. Those men would be quick to disappear. Erased from the world.

But nothing, no matter all the faceless forces at play beyond the backdrop of civilization could rid themselves of the black books. It was almost like something, perhaps even a god, wanted people to know. To be cursed and punished through the ages for the sins of their forebears.

He'd never been particularly brave before. Not gallant or valorous. Not a man of cold action like Tyr or fearless like his father. Iscari was a fearful person and that was his greatest weakness. But he opened it now, reading what was assumed to be the only undamaged copy of Confessions in all of the human lands.

In truth, it was just a copy. An imitation print with no title or cover to denote its name let alone its origin. The only man in history to read the original, other than Ellemar himself, was Tyr Faeron.

They started with forgotten cities. Things had calmed at the academy and it wasn't so hard for Iscari to make one excuse or another with the help of his father. Old places that existed buried in the earth. Of forsaken races or those fallen to decadence in ages past. A lust for superiority like that of the Orik who would turn their own people into mindless slaves and weaponize their biology. Giving rise to the orc, the goblin, the troll, and the ogre. All slaves, all failures in the eyes of their long lost progenitors, belched from the same seed for unique purpose.

If man could not answer the question, then the other races might. Anu had no answer, for they were beings of artifice and science. Focusing their efforts toward mana constructs and taking their superior latent energy for granted. To a race that could not freely access them, they were of no great import.

Tyr was disappointed. They stood in front of a circular well in the earth nearly fifty meters across that plumbed down into the depths of the planet. So deep that he could neither see nor hear the rock he'd dropped down it. Iscari had a far superior education compared to himself, naming the forgotten race that had built such a titanic structure the Fomorians. For what purpose they'd dug such a stupendously deep hole in the ground... Nobody knew, and their technology wouldn't look like more than some quaint trinkets to the average archaeologist. One might find them nothing more than a footnote in the history books.

“How do you know all of this stuff?” Tyr asked. In his attempt to further study the Orik, he'd found nothing more than ambiguous mention of them. Lost cities in general were a bit more specific in the tomes of Ellemar and Solomon, but there was no clear consensus as neither had been possessed with a predilection toward archaeology. Half theory, and other tomes were convinced that these places had been built my man, dragons, or gods. Clearly, they were wrong. “How did you even know how to find this place?”

It wasn't exactly on a map. Iscari had dragged him out to a cluster of small, craggy hills in northern Varia not far from the border. And literally punched his way inside. No paths connected this place to the wider world except those Iscari had made. Making a beeline straight to it and doing his work...

“Your father's passion is fighting, probably. My father's passion is academic. He cataloged places like this in his travels, carrying on the legacy of your grandfather when Jartor did not.”

The yawning abyss below them was dead and lifeless. No power ran through this place at all, and it's purpose was unclear. It was the fourth lost city they'd discovered, and not a single one of them had been anything more than a loose pile of rubble and ruins. Incredible ruins, absolutely, but not exactly useful. As whole as this structure was, whatever energy had animated it for a purpose had gone cold long ago. No gods here. At least Tyr hoped not. Two had been more than enough.

“Isn't this a waste of time?” Tyr spit down the hole and turned his back to it. There would be no answers here, but Iscari was convinced their solution lay in that which was lost and found again. “There's nothing here.”

“Not so.” Iscari denied the claim. “Orik were creatures of science. They had no mana of their own, and even their spira was weak. Only their minds could carry them forward. Anu, a similarly ancient race according to the texts, were the complete opposite. Their mana and spira was strong, but their minds were primitive and malformed. Whatever awakened them... Maybe it was gods, as they claim, though I digress. Fomorians were masters of what they called 'soul magic'. We know that anima is not what animates a persons soul as the name might imply. It's their life force, the bonds that join mana and spira together to create a larger thing. My father says its not even an element, and that's why it has no place in string theory. Anima is, simplified, biological energy.”

“Okay... And?”

“He says anima is the element that when combined with the other building blocks of life, it gives us sentience. Or access to it. Like free will, y'know?”

Their voices echoed a dozen times before the sound faded against the walls of the chamber. An eerie noise that creeped Tyr out to no end. It seemed like any moment a horde of twisted creatures might crawl up the walls of that well and assault them. He pursed his lips in frustration. “I'm too dumb for this, you'll have to simplify it.”

Even with all his newfound knowledge, it had done nothing to gift him with the ability of critical thinking.

Iscari chuckled. “Fomorians created these.” He approached a cluster of cubes, all strewn about, pithch black and glassy. It didn't take a genius to realize that these were deuritium. Or 'black steel', as they called it. “Humans can't use it for anything more than a weapon against mages or shackles to bind them, but the Fomorians were different. They are memory crystals, almost like books but it comes in waves of images rather than words. My father says that they are dangerous, but if all they contain are memories, how bad could they be?”

“Probably best if you didn't get into the habit of saying stuff like that...” Tyr frowned.

The deuritium stung at his skin like he had thrust his hand directly into a roaring kiln. No physical injury was apparent, but he could feel the cold edge of the unique energy radiated by the stuff pushing at his insides and making him feel weak and queasy. As soon as he put a hand on the thing, he regretted it.

I rose before the light of dawn. Living beneath the earth as we did, we only realized what was happening when it was too late. Not to us, but to the others. Those above, the one who built their spell walls and ravaged the planet. We of the below cared little for such things, never had much in common with the Orik, nor the Altan. Kept to ourselves mostly, life was easier that way, my family wasn't quite so war positive as some of our other kin. Getting themselves wrapped up in that mess, and it's all gone now.

That's what the dreamers say. It's time for us all to enter the birch and surrender our material bodies... Even the kaddiska agree, but I must admin that my trepidation is overflowing. Auspicious, maybe, the great journey they've been talking about for as long as I can remember. Infinite pleasures, they say, but I can't help but feel nervous at the idea that we're really doing this. To just... Dream, forever.

He... Who was he? Not I. Tyr's mind was filtered through the thoughts of an alien psyche to behold the world around him through six eyes. Everything was strange, everything cast in unfamiliar shades , forcing his ego down and enforcing its psyche on his own until there was only one.

Orik. We had no quarrel with them, and they had none with us. Quarrels with the others though... Always a war or diversion, endless degeneracy and only thoughts toward what could be done, no question as to whether they should or not. The spira is not a toy, it is sacred and they bent it to their will. Dreamers think that'll be the end of everything, necessitating our departure.

They asked for our help, and we denied them. Even now as I lay here astride the engine I can feel them cracking the world above with their vile suns. Few of our people accepts, Altan existed, Anu danced around their fires and howled at the moon. Alfen remained in their isolated cities ignorant to the wider world. The spirakin who stood neutral for so long have joined in an attempt to stop the calamity. Too late.

Like so many flowers. Blooming in the sky so bright as to blind some of my kin. We had stopped considering anything a god long ago. In our wisdom, we knew better. Not gods, something high but I fail to see how a god can be anything but omnipotent, and they are not. Perhaps it is the arrogance borne of great knowledge and progress, I cannot be sure.

Their temples and floating islands were shattered. I suppose they weren't gods after all – to fall so easily before the onslaught of the Orik. Their suns eclipsed our own and bathed the land in fire. Fire that burns long after the flames have been put out. Turning fertile soil to sand, and sand to glass.

Spirakin rose up to correct the balance, turning the flowers aside to land in the east. Waves of burning air came from there. Sharp pains and mutation wracking what races survived the corruption. Some are gone now entirely. In the loss of balance, the spirakin lost theirs, becoming... Beasts? Great reptilian terrors that lay waste to the lands above and exterminated that which couldn't hide below as we did. Once they were of the balance, but I fear that they've long lost their minds in the carnage and I am thankful that we have always lived so afield of their kind.

Some great vengeance on the warring races, their crimes innumerable. We did not care for much besides our own survival, and it was ensured. If the Orik came for us, the anchorites would be ready for them. There aren't many left to come, and the twisted abominations left behind are too busy slaying one another now to be much of a threat.

We thought we were safe in perpetuity. If the calamity had stopped there, we would have been. We felt it in our bones and the earth shuddered. Mana walls, auroras in the sky descended next to contain the destruction, shaking many of our caverns to dust and burying our kin beneath the rubble. Those who fought above were slaughtered in their millions, no matter what side they supported.

We should have marched sooner. As it was, it was too late. Our 'gods' were dead and with it, the ash came. Dust to blot out the sun and freeze the earth. Anu called it the 'black sun', only to see the days grow blacker still. Everywhere was ash and scorching rains. Falling from the sky to ravage the forests and everything else the corruption touched.

It had stopped, ten to fifteen cycles later. All the races were decimated, many suffering a far greater doom. Quartered and halved or lowered to the point where their civilizations would never rise again. This world was a barren rock and the great sea had swallowed more of it than I thought existed.

Orik were triumphant. At first, they had been ready for the devastation and walled themselves, sequestered in cities of metal. The 'black sun' would've been a more appropriate name for what happened next, rather than before. Not an eclipse, but an orb of murky black framed by white radiance that none of my kind could look upon. We fled beneath the shuddering earth yet again to the comfort of our habitats and abodes. There was no telling what had occurred and what was yet occurring. Earthquakes and great unceasing calamities. Orik had brought doom with one hand, but with the other they sought our salvation.

We have to get to the engine. I can't conscience refusing the orders of the kaddiska, but there is another to the south. All we have to do is reach it, and I will see my family again in the birch. That world of infinite pleasures, where none could grow old, no diversion could be dull. Masters of their own universe all, I had feared it once but now I see that it is necessary.

More great machines, so vast in their proportions as to crack mountains and split the sky. We knew not their function, only that it made it stop. They smashed the moon, but when next I looked upon the sky so unfamiliar to me – it wasn't so unfamiliar as to notice that the sun was truly gone as well. Even the stars had changed, and the new sun went black again. With our eyes we knew they had sought salvation in the physical dimension, but only the birch could save us.

Orik... Altan... Spirakin. A war in the heavens that transcended the meager might of all that was left. Alfen marched forward beneath the wings of the great wyrm and committed themselves to the butchery. I do not know why. Everything and everyone that remained was fighting now, no race was safe. Not Anu, storming down from their abodes in the sky, not the maxxid swarming from the sea, nor the war-born kijin separated from their western kin.

Gods rose, new gods. No more frail than the last, and I saw them beneath the shadows of Tal'Dahr. Breakers of armies, bringers of ash and blood and dust. If not for my abhorrence of violence I would've thought it beautiful, but they did not strike us. Orik wanted our engine, that great succor that would save our kind, but they were denied. Not by us, but by the engine itself. It did not want them.

“What is this?” I remember asking in my final moments. I think I'm dying now, my kin have fallen ill and few remain. Some sort of tear in reality. We don't understand. They came from everywhere. We remained below the earth, and they came for us. Anu, Orik, Spirakin, Alfen, Altan... All silent. They do not respond to our attempts to communicate. Mana went wild all across the continent and no longer obeyed us.

My clade attempted to run along the veil, but they followed us. I do not know how, but even our few warriors, for all of their might could do nothing to halt it. They--

Tyr's head split with a great force, washed in white static and dropping the device as if it were a thousand degrees. Despite being as cold as ever, he could feel the same unnatural fires washing out the sky that had taken the denizen of this device to the grave on his skin. He threw himself back and panted, drenched in sweat with a concerned Iscari attempting to decipher the inhuman language coming from Tyr's lips.

Separating himself from the consciousness of that thing had been jarring. Tyr's own identity all mixed up with someone else. But not a memory, the creature in that cube was still alive. Warped, twisted, and half mad from some malfunction in a mechanism designed to secure its soul and send it to the 'birch', another world that lay nowhere in the physical.

He felt his children and his consorts fade away until he had forgotten their faces. Leaving him with a deep pit of emptiness and an absolute certainty that their answers did not lie in a foul artifact like this. The last remaining shred of a sapient mind forced to relive its final and most terrifying moments for all eternity.

He'd lived half a lifetime through the mind of the other and was on the verge of falling into insanity. If not for the steady hands of Iscari holding back his hair as he emptied his stomach, he might've. Long ribbons of blood followed next, his body scarred by an experience that went beyond seeing something as simple as memories.

“Don't touch those.” Tyr groaned. “Your father was right. This race, the Fomorians, were refugees of some war in the past. And these aren't just memories... The mind that is trapped within that cube is alive. It's still alive!”

Forbidden magic. It was similar to a phylactery, only infinitely worse. Those who made it this far were stuck in a never ending loop of horrors until they were connected to the 'engine'. Holding their individual selves inside a deuritium prison, perhaps even their actual souls. Uncountable years, it was a wonder how the memories he'd seen weren't a maddened blur. Maybe that would be a better alternative.

Iscari nodded patiently. Guiding Tyr from the lost city but not before filling his dimensional rings with as many of the artifacts as he could find when the other man wasn't looking. There was an answer here. Tyr did not possess the fortitude for it, and that was okay. Iscari would find this answer, at all costs, no matter where it came from.

I will save you. He promised in his mind. There was no timeline or no fate that would prevent him from ensuring Tyr lived a long life. Perhaps even a happy one.


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