“What about… now?” Treen’s voice carries a disturbing echo-like quality before his head pops into view with a quizzical expression.
“Still nothing,” I report, watching Genni tap my arm.
“Hmm.” Treen’s head disappears and the echo returns. “Sensory couplings are established and clean; the fibre matrix has been paired, and in truth I’ve carried this operation out so many times I could do it in my sleep, but maybe… well now, that would have to be the oddest thing.” Treen’s head surfaces and he steps back from the makeshift workbench where I am laying – my innards exposed. The thought of Treen tinkering with the Golem workings bothers me, I must admit, but being able to feel again quashes the first instances of trepidation and within a day Treen, with the assistance of our new human allies, has secured a workshop suitable enough for the task.
“What is it?” Genni enquires.
Treen taps a strange looking instrument against his thoughtfully set jaw. “This sounds beyond the realms of the Eternal – but somehow I expected to find Asbjorn inside. Truly we have the oddest anomaly arrayed before us, and it is only now I have been given an opportunity to perform a worthwhile investigation, that I am actually willing to contemplate this accident.”
“I am no accident.”
“No, no you’re not. Yet you inhabit the body of a Golem and neither you nor I have the first clue as to why.”
“We have gone over this before.”
“Yes, yes, yes… we have. Yet this is the oddest thing: the reason the sensory functions are not working, is because there is no power – the core is not connected.”
“But-” adds Genni.
“Indeed, Genni – but! But how is it that he operates?”
“Pilots have lost themselves to suits before,” reminds Genni. “Is this not simply a case of Asbjorn reversing that process?”
“An interesting theory – but where is Asbjorn?” counters Treen. “A pilot is linked to the Golem, yes, and yes there have been cases of the pilot losing his mind to a Golem. But the fact of the matter is, the pilot physically exists. As far as I can make out…” Treen looks up at me as if only just noticing that I am in the room.
“I do not exist,” I finish for him. “Can you fix this ‘sensor thing’, or not?”
“Golemancy is my life, Asbjorn. Even when I was a young progeny, my path had always been comfortably clear – I knew, even if at the time others did not.” Treen places his curious instrument down on the workbench. “The sensor is not broken. There is nothing wrong with this suit, this Golem is operating as I expect it to – for the most part.”
Genni frowns. “For the most part?”
“Where there is power, yes. But – and may I be struck for saying this – I do not know where that power is coming from.” Genni cuffs the back of Treen’s head. “Blessed ears! Metaphorically!”
“Nonsense,” interjects Genni. “We’re not going anywhere for a couple of days yet – get to work.”
Treen glares at Genni, and whilst our circumstances might be unusual, it is clear he does not like her more informal approach. “Either way,” Treen finally speaks, turning from the warrior, “the key to this mystery is the source of the power. If we can answer that, then I believe-
“It’s his spirit,” Genni cuts across Treen’s ramble.
Genni removes her hand from my arm and steps past Treen, her eyes fixed on me. Her ears bristle, cheeks flush and I look hard into those green eyes, those big dangerous green eyes. “It is his spirit,” she repeats, still watching me, only glancing down from time to time as she works on closing up the Golem casing. “That’s right isn’t it, Asbjorn.”
As soon as I hear the case snap shut, I am getting up. No muscle tightens at my stomach, my legs do not tense or flex, my arms do not stretch out to to find purchase or balance – I am up.
Genni and Treen take a wary step back. “You okay, Mr Bear?” Genni asks.
“Yeah, my Golems are good, but you may want to be careful of pushing the actuators too hard like that,” adds Treen.
Clambering from the bench, I fail to notice the whole thing give way as I plant my hands down, causing the bench to slide back with an abrupt jolt and the whole room to tilt in front of me. Genni gasps, reaching out as though she could somehow prevent the inevitable and I catch a glimpse of their pitying winces before they swing out of view to be replaced by a white painted ceiling.
“Damn the spirits! Damn them all to the corruption!”
The shame of my words reverberates around the tiny lab, but I want to say it again and again. I could stand on the ice sculpture of Bear’s head in Hoelbrak and curse their way until the Wolfborn shoot me down – what difference would it make?
“Asbjorn?” Genni’s head appears. “Let me help you up.”
“No!” And then more calmly, “No,” when I see the sadness in her face. “It is okay. I am tired.” It is true. I do feel exhausted, and I cannot even recall the last time I slept. “Please, I would just like to rest.”
Genni nods and Treen mutters, “We could all do with some sleep – think on things.”
Lamps are doused, windows shuttered and the room is bathed in a pale blue glow. I have no idea what the source of the light is and I am too tired to bother with it now.
I can see a star. It is far away from me and surrounded by night. It is only one star instead of many. A breeze, only slight, tickles my skin, bringing with it a familiar salty smell, one that prompts memories of Lion’s Arch and the noise of gulls. Light from the star slowly expands, a blue that eases its way into craggy shadows, etching out jagged contours of stalagmites and stalactites that depict a stony maw poised to engulf the star in a single bite. The breeze plays again and I feel cold, but the light eases such concerns as it continues to reveal a vast cavern of glistening moss strewn rock, and people. Before me, around me, I am amongst them – a gathered crowd of silhouettes, of all shapes and sizes, standing silent before the star.
Something moves: something near the star climbs a set of steps, built by hand, not carved into the stone. It is a little thing that moves with an almost weary shuffle until it stands before the star – no, it is a crystal of some kind and the thing that moves is clearly an asura, with large pointed ears picked out in dark relief before the blue glow, and a bald, shining head. I cannot tell if it is facing me or the crystal until it reaches up to place hands against the glass-like surface. Whatever the asura is doing, no concern seems to be given to the crowd that stand arrayed throughout the cavern.
Forgetting the asura and the crystal, for a moment I study the gathered onlookers. Staring ahead, they do not appear to be paying any attention to the scene before them. Unease coupled with the breeze sets goosebumps upon my flesh as it becomes clear that, with the exception of barely discernible shallow breaths, there is little if any life here.
Remembered tales of the distant lands of Orr and what the seas brought forth during the reign of Zhaitan sets my mind on childish fears that I find hard to dismiss. Cautiously, I wave a hand in front of the blank face of my closest neighbour. But my neighbour, a human woman dressed in a style familiar to the populace of Divinity’s Reach, ignores my hand. Seemingly devoid of cognitive function, open eyes process nothing; with some hesitation, I reach out to prod her bare shoulder. Her skin is warm to the touch, but again there is nothing. I grip her shoulder to shake her, wake her up, and she breathes suddenly, a deep drawing in of air that startles me and I am glad that no other witnesses my recoil – I am scared; frightened by the possibilities of what my imagination conjures.
Understanding fuels a desperate thought as the idea that I had gone to sleep only moments before, to wake in this place, to realise that perhaps I have been released. Is that what this is? My blasphemy, such a brief sojourn to faithlessness, has disconnected me from even that of my mechanical body and the spirits have abandoned me here?
A sound, a sigh, echoes about the still of the cavern. The asura has moved from the crystal and stands facing us, the barren mass, hands clasping a rail, face hidden in the darkness. So help me, but I would kiss a dolyak’s arse if this is an eternity of damnation – little demons they might be, but presiding over the faults of all? I do not bloody think so.
I am surprised that the standing bodies do not topple as I begin to edge my way forward, as instead there seems to be some ability that allows balance and a slight shuffle to one side or the other despite the lack of sentience. The way is slow, the rock beneath my feet is damp and slippery as I fight for purchase and my legs grow weak surprisingly fast, whilst my breath labours from the efforts of my progress. Lifeless limbs seem to flail automatically if I push too hard and hands snag on my hunting coat as I seek to brush them aside. I can see the last few rows now but I trip as my foot catches something hard, the toe of my boot jarring against an edge with a dull thump. I throw my hands out and catch hold of one of the inert bodies, saving myself from a fall, and instead of crashing to the floor manage to catch my balance. The soles of my boots tap on wooden planking and I straighten to catch my breath, to steady my nerves and look straight into the face of Hank.
Hank stares back, not directly, but somewhere off behind my skull and into an infinity. I do not understand. What is he doing here? There is no doubt that it is him; I will never forget his face.
“Gentlemen, about your business. We have a sleepwalker.” A bored, nasal voice distracts me from studying Hank. The asura up on the platform is looking at me, his hands still gripping the railing. He does not seem surprised that I am here and after a few seconds more he turns back to the crystal.
I try to call out, but my throat is painfully dry and all I can manage is a rasping whisper. Pushing forward again, I break through the lifeless crowd to stand before the rigged gantry, where looking up it is only now that I notice nestled within the crystal itself is an asura form. It, is quite clearly a she and shows no signs of life. In fact, along with being quite dead, she looks remarkably like Genni.
There is a creak to my right, to my left, and I turn both ways to see approaching men, two on either side walking casually across the wooden boards. They do not look like they are ready for a fight, but as I turn to one group, one of the men raises a hand and the others pause.
“Steady, this one looks a bit of a loony.”
The asura’s voice floats down from above. “Just get on with it.”
The man grins, flicking his hand to reveal a thin baton. “Light him up boys, light him up.”
Moving quickly, they approach from both directions and as one closes, he flourishes his baton. The silver, metallic stick looks distinctly unthreatening, even somewhat comical in the hand of the man as he strikes out. Casually, I sweep my arm up to bat it aside, too late noticing the shimmering trail of sparks left in the wake of the flimsy looking weapon, and as it makes contact with my arm a jolt of pain sears my side.
I almost collapse – but the pain, the pain is nothing like I have felt in a long time. With a hoarse bellow, I surge upwards, the back of my hand connecting with the man’s lower jaw, sending him sprawling with a cry of pain. His companion, the man who had spoken, gapes in astonishment. I twist, swinging a wild haymaker that would have made any norn proud as it connects bodily with another approaching from behind, which blessed by the Mother Bear herself, I am certain cracks more than one or two ribs. Her might is within me and I acknowledge my shame, my doubt, and I ask for forgiveness as the third, the foolish idiot, steps into the full force of my striking fist.
Then the jolting pain is back: starting in the base of my neck, it races the length of my spine, up to rattle my teeth until I taste tin and down to render legs as useless as those of a newborn calf. I cannot help crying out, try to twist again to fight off my assailant, but he skips around behind keeping the rod pressed firmly at the nape of my neck. Then another is up, smearing blood across his face with the wipe of a hand, baton raised and a look of ill-intent.
The second shock drives the air from my lungs with a whoosh as I hear my own guttural cry.
That voice! I try to turn my head, to look up at the blue, glowing crystal. “Genni?”
She screams again, “Mr Bear!”
“Genni!” But she is in the crystal, what can I do? Mother Bear!
Colours dance across my vision as I am certain a third joins this personal irruption.
She is here – a concerned face, wide, green eyes flecked with the pale blue light of the room. “Shush. Calm yourself,” she coos.
“It is okay, Mr Bear. You’re okay now – it was just a bad dream, a nightmare, that is all.”
“The cavern, those men…” I am not in a cavern. I am in a room, lit only by a soft, pale blue.
“It’s okay now, Asbjorn. I’m here, I am with you and you’re going to be just fine.”
I stare up at the ceiling, a plain ceiling, and I can feel myself calm as an odd tingle runs along my arm. My arm?
Genni sits to my right, her back resting against the makeshift workbench, making soft reassuring noises as her hand gently strokes my arm. At first I think to pull my arm away – I am Asbjorn Bre, norn hunter, not some child that has awoken from night terrors.
“Genni?” I ask after a few moments’ silence.
She smiles. “Are you feeling a little better?”
“Yes, thank you. I am sorry if I startled you.”
“It is okay. You are overtired and even a big old bear like you needs to disconnect from it all.”
The sounds of Divinity’s Reach drifts through the shuttered windows – hawkers, musicians, revellers and all as they go about their normal day. There is nothing wrong with normal.
“Would you hold my hand please?”
Edited by Amy