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Tales of Shadow City: Seeing Nowhere Through The Eyes Of A Lie – Chapter 3

Quickly, and with as much secrecy as possible, Talona met with the commanders of the Yafornian starships currently stationed in the vicinity of the Spire, and the rift. The Mistress of Shadow City wanted more than anything to avoid a panic amongst her people, but if action was going to need to be taken, someone else had to be told.

“The Gifting occurred because of the influence of the towers that once rose from the desert”, she explained. “The Spire is a structure of the same origins and powers, and it may be exerting an unwelcome influence on our world. We need to determine the truth, and act as that truth demands for the sake of our people. Now, how soon can we go aboard the Spire?”

“Portable energy-wall generators can seal off a section of corridor, and producing an atmosphere won’t be a problem”, said Symmarae.

“We have support craft that can transport all we need to the site”, added Undriless, captain of Skylance Defender. “Nothing we’ve seen so far suggests our machines will be adversely affected by close proximity to the object. It’s getting too close to the rift that worries us.”

“Forgive me for speaking out of turn”, added Symmarae, “but would this… influence have anything to do with what happened to Korthrem?”

Good – they’re thinking for themselves, thought Talona. I’d expect that from Symmarae, given the time she’s spent away from home on Skylance-X. Now, how about Undriless…?

“That seems feasible”, said the Defender commander. “Feasible, or perhaps… dare I say, convenient…?”

That was a statement that caught Talona somewhat off-guard. “Your meaning being… what?”

“I… ‘see’ patterns, in events, numbers”, Undriless replied. “My Gift – it’s why I was selected for Skylance command. Something about all this seems to fall into a pattern of some kind, but it’s incomplete – for now.”

Undriless’s statement had almost sounded like an accusation, but the explanation was… adequate enough for Talona to let the matter rest there. If there were any seeds of disquiet, she felt sure they would reveal themselves soon enough, pushing through into the cold light of scrutiny whether those who planted them wished it or not. The people of Shadow City were fully entitled to express whatever opinions they wished, and always had been, but secret plotting was an entirely different, and entirely unacceptable matter.

Putting such thoughts aside, Talona set her commanders to work, the two of them using their respective ships’ facilities to explore their Mistress’s concerns. “There”, Symmarae called out soon after. “A trace of energetic output from the Spire. Very low level, barely distinguishable from background traces in space…”

“Directed energy?”, queried Talona.

“We’re still analysing the data”, said Undriless, “but I don’t believe that to be the case. The structure may just project this energy in all directions, and we just happen to be susceptible to it.”

Let’s hope that’s all there is to it, thought Talona. This could be an imbalance caused by there being only one tower instead of three… but then again, that could pose a whole new set of problems in itself…

“The hull and shielding of both ships are sufficient to block these energies, it seems”, observed Talona. “Can personal environment support gear provide the same protection?”

“We’d have to look into it, but the suits do shield the wearer against all manner of space-borne hazards, including various dangerous types of radiation”, explained Symmarae. “I feel confident that the suits will be up to the task.”

“Of course, we could use Mechanicals instead”, suggested Undriless. “They wouldn’t be affected at all…”

“True”, mused Talona, “but… it should be us.”

Talona’s position, and the reverence she received from her people, meant that her words were almost never questioned. Once again, there was no challenge, and Talona had never been so grateful for it. She already had enough doubts of her own.

Talona was deeply, but still privately grateful that the crews of the two Skylances did not keep their Mistress waiting. She felt uneasy about the idea of relying on technology, especially the force-wall generators that were going to be all that stood between the mission team and the frigid clutches of space. Symmarae and Undriless would not allow their crews to venture into dangerous situations with just a single means of securing their destination, but even the most elementary methods could not be completely guaranteed…

It was too easy to over-analyse everything, Talona had discovered. Being effectively Shadow City’s commander-in-chief had… dulled her edge to a wholly unacceptable degree. She was by nature a creature of action, and she was getting far too little of that.

“Launch deck reports that the transport is ready”, reported Undriless and for Talona, that news could not have come a moment too soon. She almost flew down the corridors, and the doors barely opened quick enough to let her pass unhindered…

…o O o…

There were several hundred thousand Shadowfolk in Shadow City, and every one of them had a Gift, an almost magical power granted to all on one terrible day when the City faced destruction. Many had acquired Gifts that allowed them to take an active and meaningful part in the defence of their City, whilst for others “The Gifting” had left them with seemingly trivial abilities, too limited to be of any great value – and then there were those unfortunate few who had gained powers that were too bizarre, too dangerous to be left unsupervised.

They were one hundred and thirteen in number, and Talona valued them all. The One-Thirteen were her “pet project”, her weapons of terror.

Kydeel – Agent Zero Four One – was in no way proud of his status. He hated what he had become as a result of The Gifting, condemned to a miserable existence with four semi-sentient tentacles growing out of his belly. They were super-strong, and could stretch to extend his reach ten-fold, but the extra limbs had minds of their own, touching people and things they shouldn’t, and almost never sleeping…

He had pleaded with Lady Talona’s scientists to surgically remove the offending appendages, but they had said that he would most likely not survive the operation, as his brain and nervous tissue had expanded into the tentacles – but now Kydeel was continually cursing himself for not taking that chance. It was hardly as though he had that much to lose any more.

For several nights, Kydeel had kept himself awake, even to the point of drawing blood more than once, knowing that the more tired he was, the more torpid the tentacles would be, and the less able they would be to stop him. On the fifth night, he had long ago decided, he was going to kill himself.

Tonight was that fifth night…

Near the city centre, there were buildings undergoing expansion – expansion that was only possible vertically – and one had a moving construction gantry that could be rotated to hang out over the street, the rooftop well beyond the reach of the tentacles. It wasn’t going to be the easiest way to die, but it was… certain.

It was often said that when most would-be suicides faced the moment of destiny, they changed thier minds. Kydeel did not give himself that chance; once it was in place, he climbed up onto the upper walkway of the construction gantry, and started to run…

The tentacles began to stir as Kydeel started falling, but it was all far too little, and far too late. The One-Thirteen agent was already entirely at peace with what he had done, and salvation was mere heartbeats away – already, the light from The Other Side was embracing him, growing in brightness so quickly that he felt sure he would never see the street rushing up to claim him…

“Tell me again how you learned what was happening here”, Dragonfang asked the construction supervisor. “For the records…”

“Two hours past Night-Peak, an automated security scan reported that a Level Zero access pass had been used to gain entry to the roof, and our equipment”, replied Supervisor Ebrahd. “They didn’t seem particularly bothered by our image-recorders, as you can see…”

Ebrahd showed Dragonfang a series of recordings, displayed on an almost paper-thin visual display. Jumping from one viewpoint to another, the security cameras showed the whole of the intruder’s time on the construction site, including the moment when he climbed onto the fully-extended crane arm, ran along its full length… and jumped.

“And then what?, asked Dragonfang. “Obviously, what was intended and what actually happened don’t exactly compare.”

“City ordinances require that any and all construction sites have full fire detection and suppression systems, including thermal sensors”, Ebrahd explained. “We received an alert from those sensors, even though the heat source was outside the building, and falling. It… appeared halfway down, and… well, there’s the result…”

The construction manager glanced over his shoulder, and his eyes were forced to narrow by the shimmering blue glare. In the middle of the road, partially embedded in the melted remains of a street-cruiser, was what the man’s mind could only comprehend as being an egg, made of bands of tightly woven blue light. Ebrahd had seen the object’s incredible, impossible origins for himself on the security recordings. The jumper had had tentacles growing from his stomach, from the start, and those had changed from flesh to brilliant blue light, wrapping themselves around the falling man just before they hit the ground…

…o O o…

Talona cautiously took a breath. The air newly pumped into the network of now air-tight corridors was dry, and had a strangely metallic taste to it, but none of the “weight of ages” she had in part expected. The complex at the “root” of the Spire had perhaps been empty for too long for any remnant of its Var creators to survive…

the Var, or their servants, Talona reminded herself, and the latter have now returned.

“What are the energy readings?”, she asked her Shadowfolk companions.

One of the figures clad in restrictive environment suits looked up from a portable scanner. “We seem to be in the clear”, reported Undriless. “No trace of the energies we detected from space.”

Without warning, Talona stepped down into the sealed-off corridor. The floor under the soles and spiked heels of her almost crotch-high synthetic leather boots shimmered, the previously featureless stone-like material lighting up from within, revealing swirling patterns leading off into the distance – and to something deep inside the Mistress of Shadow City, all of it seemed strangely… familiar.

She took a step forward. The pattern changed, the curves and swirls drawing her eyes into the distance, beyond the lights of the Skylance-X shuttle. The shapes did not seem to be of the same material as the rest of the floor, their substance more like the Spire than the unremarkable stone in which the Var edifice was rooted. Curious, Talona knelt, peeled off her right glove, and placed her bare palm flat against one of the glowing shapes…

***…welcome, child…***

Talona recoiled, and the multiple voices, whispering in telepathic unison, went silent. Those were voices she had heard before, on the day when she unleashed the power of the Spires of Yafornis, and gave the Shadowfolk their Gifts… but they had been nothing but murmurs at that time, vague hints at some kind of presence. Today, there were words, a definite intelligence – but it was what those words lacked that troubled Talona the most. There was no soul.

A machine, then, she thought. A… device, designed to mimic a living brain so closely that it can communicate with a real mind. If the Var can create races of living beings – ours, the Tall Ones – then I don’t think it would have exceeded their skills to make machines that are so close to being alive…

Symmarae cursed inside her environment suit helmet as Talona stood up, and strode away into the darkness, following the glowing shapes embedded in the floor. The Mistress of Shadow City did not appear to be adversely affected by making direct contact with the Spire, but Talona was… Talona – one of a kind, and as different from the Shadowfolk as they differed from the Tall Ones – and the Skylance-X commander was not about to let her bare skin touch anything, let alone sample the air for herself. It took a supreme act of will to get her to step down from the shuttle…

The floor beneath her feet glowed, in the same curiously welcoming fashion that it had done for Talona, but that did not ease Symmarae’s mind one bit. The Skylance-X commander was well versed in dealing with the strange, the alien, but this was all too close to home for her liking. When she and her crew encountered anything like this out among the stars, they always had the option to turn tail and run, putting light-years between themselves and danger. Here, the light from Yafornis’s mother-star could reach the Spire in hours.

Symmarae went in pursuit of Talona, without a further thought. It was better to keep The Mistress of Shadow City in sight than spend precious hours, minutes even, searching for her…

“Sulthar, Varu, you’re with me”, Symmarae told her people. “The rest of you… stay alert, and be ready to leave in a hurry.”

“Expecting trouble, Commander?”, enquired Prudaad, the Skylance Defender chief of security.

Always“, came the reply. “That way, this job can still have some pleasant surprises…”

…to be continued…


“(I’m) seeing nowhere through the eyes of a lie” from the lyrics of HOLE IN THE SKY, by BLACK SABBATH