Enemy Mine II (Rackenhammer, Sade)

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Enemy Mine II (Rackenhammer, Sade)

Post by Sade »

About a week after the first meeting between the dragon and the rats a letter found its way onto the desk of the former. A simple envelope was addressed to Zechariah Vesperocci by name. There was no return address. Inside the envelope was a folded piece of old parchment. A few short words were scrawled on the back of the parchment in a characteristic kind of angular calligraphy, in a language used to govern the world more than 2000 years ago. All it said was “They are lying to you.”

Inside the folded parchment was a teleportation spell. Steps had been taken to make the nature of the spell plain to see to anyone with experience in magic. Visually it was an infinite regression of geometric shapes endlessly shifting over one another, glowing a dim purple. The structure of the spell had many of the calling cards of the speakers of the warning’s language; lots of constructs whose inelegance would have been laughed at by wizards of a later period, albeit nervously. An “advanced” alien visitor might laugh so nervously at the business end of a “primitive” pump-action shotgun pressed against his face. Closer examination would show that the spell’s terminus lay somewhere in the frozen wind-blasted wasteland of The Northern Continent, and that it would only work once, for a single person, in one direction.
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Re: Enemy Mine II (Rackenhammer, Sade)

Post by Rackenhammer »

There is something inherently uncanny about the passive mood in grammar, with its suggestions of actions without actors, ghosts hiding in the syntax. Zechariah was used to the uncanny, and was therefore only mildly surprised to see an envelope which had apparently mailed itself to him, as neither the post office nor any private courier had borne it to his desk. He sat and opened it, like any other letter, and read its contents impassively.

It was unsigned, but easy to guess its occupant. Few indeed were the scholars of that dead language, and the sign of that construct was unmistakeable. That was one advantage of his campaign of magical suppression, the dragon knew. When it did appear, magic told you nearly everything about the wielder. There was no longer the novelty of innovation, or the sometimes insane results of cross-pollination he remembered from his University days.


Zech took the rest of the day in preparation; warm clothes and an exit spell took up most of that. Once he felt ready to face what awaited him, he took up the letter and activated the portal. *It is about time I talked with him about this...*
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Re: Enemy Mine II (Rackenhammer, Sade)

Post by Sade »

It was very early in the morning and between seasons on the other side of the world. The sun hung red and baleful just above the horizon where it had-and-would linger for many months. Sunlight glinted off the semi-translucent ice of the terrain. The katabatic winds of the Northern Continent were driven by the downward slope of the ice shelf and the lack of any form of wind resistance. They came barreling down from the elevated central region and continued on towards the ice sheets and the shore at relatively constant 30 miles per hour. They carried relatively little snow on this side of the continent, but the wind itself was about -50 F.

Luckily all this was just beyond a window- an opening in the ice. The teleportation spell had flown the dragon across the world in a matter of seconds and placed him in a vast enclosed space carved into a protruding lip of glacier by the terrain contours below and occasional flows of liquid water during the summer. It was glassy smooth ice all around. And it was warm. Two huge spheres of thaumatic fire roared behind him, casting light and a heat felt only by bodies and not by ice as they ever so slowly rolled around.

“Oh!” The cavern’s occupant stumbled from his place near the nearest fire. It was a not a construct, rather it was a Feilan, a Gerbil. He was normal enough- agouti coat, small and slender, digitigrade legs, warm clothes. All that was unusual about him was an old and faint signature of Vedicus’ necromantic powers and a much more recent residual trace of temporal magic… so far as temporal magic could ever be read as “recent” with any great accuracy. “You’re here!” He stammered off cheerfully and excitedly and just a little guardedly, “h-he said you would come! But when you took longer to arrive then expected he want out looking for you, in case the spell dropped you off target.”

He held out his hand as if to shake Vesperocci’s but quickly put it back down. Instead he sidestepped to make sure one of the free-floating thaumatic fires remained partially between himself and the Dragon. “My name is Moss. You’re Zechariah Vesperocci, the Dragon of the West. Tamas told me about you. If anyone can help us it’s you!” The Gerbil frowned suddenly, sensing he’d said to much. “Well, now that you’re here he should be back soon.”
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Re: Enemy Mine II (Rackenhammer, Sade)

Post by Rackenhammer »

The architecture was as remarkable as the circumstances of travel had led Zechariah to suppose. Only one skilled in magic could have made such a place inhabitable, and indeed, there were scents of magic about the first inhabitant the dragon saw. The smell was not a pleasant one...

"Moss, is it? Pleased to meet you... I suspect for the the first time, though there is about you something familiar." Zech began diplomatically, with an open expression inviting conversation. This gerbil had already let some valuable information slip, and may be more cautious... but on the other hand, Moss was clearly nervous at his circumstances, and relieved to have company. That loosened tongues more efficiently than liquor.
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Re: Enemy Mine II (Rackenhammer, Sade)

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“Could it be that I’m a Fetch? Or that I was at Trolon Rief- that I led Vedicus there?” He shrugged, “nothing secret about that anymore.” He suddenly looked startled and flustered before rushing on, “I didn’t lead him there on purpose though! I didn’t know anything! I thought I was… real. I had memories of a life…” The Gerbil looked away, looking profoundly unhappy. He shrugged again, as if doing so would help him convince himself that what he said was true; “it doesn’t matter anymore.”

He turned back to Zech, “sometimes I miss my family- my brothers and sisters and parents- but then I remember that they aren’t real and never were. Having to leave everything that matters behind in my escape would be hard enough without also knowing that all those things… never existed to begin with? I was forced to escape from a life I didn’t actually have…”

A new voice echoed around the cave of ice, bouncing from walls of ice and walls unseen, reverberating unnaturally within itself, “we have all made sacrifices in order to escape.” There was a noise like a wolf or a bear or a rat, or all of them rolled into one, and the light of an unseen entrance cast the shadow of a monstrous creature entering the caves, obscured by a partial wall of ice.

What came around the bend did not match its own shadow though. It was Tamas. That was obvious enough. And yet it also wasn’t. He’d changed a lot in the last thousand years. The brilliant robe of shifting colors and geometric shapes was still there- still a clever illusion created by pigmented fur follicles woven together- but the movements had grown erratic. The shapes cascaded violently across the tapestry of his body, catching rays of color and splitting them prism-like into chaotic beams crisscrossing his torso. The effect was slow and unsettling near his feet, but it grew ever more energetic further up his torso, until the symbols broke free from physical form and became the base of a conflagration of purple fire, a billowing lion’s mane of energy enshrouding his shoulders and head. His eyes were piercing infernos of brilliant white-purple like a pair of blinding suns partially obscured by eyelids.

“But this escape is nothing of the sort,” he said with a frown. The construct had been given the appearance of a kindly old man a thousand years ago, just a little gaunt, elderly but still standing upright. He still stood upright even now, but the illusion of natural aging was gone. His flesh seemed to hang on a skeleton not quite right- too angular, too predatory. His face had a viscerally feral quality to it. He looked as if he’d just as soon take a bite out of someone as talk to them. “This is not escape,” he spread his arms, indicating their surroundings, “this is exile; self-imposed, yet inescapable. Until now.”

Tamas moved closer to Moss and Zechariah and looked the dragon up and down. “I must admit I’m glad you came, Zechariah, and not one of your… new associates. I trust you did not tell them about the letter? Now that you are here, I would very much like to know what they said to you, and what you told them.”
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Re: Enemy Mine II (Rackenhammer, Sade)

Post by Rackenhammer »

"Well, I can tell you this, Moss; your tragedy is real, even if you may not be." As sad and pathetic as the Gerbil's situation was, it did tickle Zechariah's fancy for the paradoxical. The dragon loved opportunities to make such statements, though they often had more wit than wisdom in them.

And with that, his host appeared. Zech turned to view him with impassive face; no easy task. The ratlike construct looked like something emerged from the bowels of Industrial Light and Magic ("With extra dazzle!") This situation was altogether too much in vein with the dragon's sense of humor for him to take it seriously. He tamped down on these emotions; they were hardly proper for a diplomatic meeting.

Tamas' bluntness, however, was just too much for him. Shaking his head solemnly, the dragon intoned, "You have lost your touch over the centuries. The first thing to do is offer your guest a seat, and a drink. Caffeine or alcohol, depending on how alert you want him. One does not breach the subject so early, unless circumstances demand immediate action; and if they do, I should like to know why."
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Re: Enemy Mine II (Rackenhammer, Sade)

Post by Sade »

Tamas began to chuckle. The chuckle grew into a long, rambling, off kilter laugh. He took a few steps back from Zechariah and waved a hand a few times over the floor, luring the ice liquid-like from the surface and urging it with movements of the hand into rough facsimiles of a small table and two low chairs. Two cups of ice grew from the surface of the table and filled with liquid of their own accord. The liquid was clear like whiskey- but of course it was water. There was no alcohol there. Tamas didn’t require liquid sustenance and gained no enjoyment from it, and Moss was a thorough teetotaler. The construct lowered himself serpentine into one of the seats, grinning like a cheshire cat twisted by children’s nightmares. He waited for the dragon to join him.

“My touch,” he laughed, “was one of their weapons! I was to use it on the likes of you and your cohorts, in their service. And I did just that, a fact you know only too well. If I were to come out here and lay my mooooves on you again, I wonder whether you would be inclined to listen to what I had to say… but, then again, who am I to trample on those ever so vital social niceties? If you want to chat about irrelevant things, by all means, let’s chat!

"So," he asked, "how have you been, Zechariah? How goes things in the land of sunshine and water in liquid form?”
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Re: Enemy Mine II (Rackenhammer, Sade)

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Zechariah took the proffered ice water with a relaxed dignity, like a diplomat at a cocktail party. He sipped, finding the clear beverage excellent of its kind, free of pollutants, but with a mineral base that gave structure to it. "It is never a wasted effort to show respect to one's diplomatic opposite, especially when one's role as an enemy or friend may shift over time. The opening moves give one a sense of the player and the nature of the game. But, of course, I speak as one who would instruct a master."

He took a seat, not losing that small smile that seemed to somehow make his features even more unreadable. "It was the Domish who said, 'The more things change, the more they stay the same.' Time has moved much since we last met, and yet the fundamental nature of most furs remains the same, in spite of their superficial arabesques. But they respond differently to different circumstances, which can give an illusion of fundamental change."
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Re: Enemy Mine II (Rackenhammer, Sade)

Post by Sade »

“So nothing has changed? People are the way they were?” Moss did not have a seat. Though they superficially appeared to be companions up her in this wasteland, Tamas did not particularly care about him as far as he could tell. So he stood next to the table. Impropriety be damned, he WAS here, and he WAS real, and this conversation would- hopefully- impact BOTH Tamas and himself. “I could have told you that.”

The rat was, of course, listening to every audible noise simultaneously. A lack of compassion did not equal a lack of attention. He looked at the gerbil and then back at the dragon, “my cohabitant skipped the last millennium. It was an ingenious solution to the problem of evading an omnipresent enemy bent on your destruction.”

“I found a place where time stands still,” the gerbil cut in, “I figured it was my best bet. Got boring after a while though, so I left to see if anything’d changed.”

“You’re lucky I was able to reach you before Consensus. At any rate, we are relatively safe here. The rats do not come here.” His solar gaze slid back to the dragon as he cocked his head just so, “but life here is dreary. You were right when you said I’d lost my touch, but in my defense I have been out of practice for a very, very long time, and I have had other concerns on my mind.”
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Re: Enemy Mine II (Rackenhammer, Sade)

Post by Rackenhammer »

The miniature social dynamics did not escape the notice of the dragon, though he did not betray it. He merely raised his glass in Moss' direction. "Perhaps sometime, after a suitable period of re-acclimation, I may find a position for one of your perception and common sense."

Turning back to Tamas, he remarked, "A fugitive from something more pitiless than justice, I understand. Well, I think we may turn our attention to the main issue for now. Yes, I have been contacted by Consensus, which seems to have spent the last 1,000 working through new variables in their calculations. I judge the situation to be one of both risk and opportunity, as they are hardly the first or only threat of monstrous proportions Feila faces, and the possibility of one ally in that fight can make a considerable difference." He took a sip from his glass again, reflectively. "So far, I have extracted what information I could without serious commitments, and I am open to objections to my current course of cautious diplomacy."
Right now, the key was to get Tamas to talk. Obviously, he was a biased source, but undoubtedly a rich one. If the dragon's scheme was to work, he would have to approach each of his contacts with an advantage in terms of information.
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Re: Enemy Mine II (Rackenhammer, Sade)

Post by Sade »

“They have military installations beneath some of your largest population centers,” Tamas offered the token as Zechariah sipped from his glass, “they may not be the largest or most fantastical threat of which you are aware, but they do have a unique capacity to cause great and immediate devastation to your kind. Certain other threats are greater but more remote; merely thunder on the horizon versus the tornado bearing down overhead.”

It was Zechariah’s mention of extracting information and particularly his assertion that he had not made serious commitments which drew the rat’s sudden and sharp attention. His immediate reaction was to lean forward over the table and ask with more than usual urgency and weight, “are you absolutely certain of that? You are dealing with creatures which excel at extracting information where feilans would not expect to find it, and using it to their advantage. Are you certain they are sincere about this ‘cautious diplomacy’ of yours? Are you absolutely certain, that they have not simply lied to you for their own gain?”

“I’m going to have to insist at this point that you tell me what they asked of you. Too much is at stake here. You asked me whether circumstances demand immediate action. I sense that it is so, but it is a vague… intuition, if you will. I can’t be more specific without this information.”
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Re: Enemy Mine II (Rackenhammer, Sade)

Post by Rackenhammer »

"One cannot be completely certain of anything. I have, for instance, rather good grounds to be uncertain of whether or not you two exist, never mind that you're being truthful to me in anything you say. I could have fallen asleep and dreamed you. There is something incongruous in this place like a dream." Zechariah, clearly, was not in any kind of hurry. Part of his preparations had been clearing out his calendar, giving him more than enough time to say all he liked, and listen to everything these rodents had to say to him.

"There are more out in Feila, whose living or familial memories extend to certain far-off times. I have given names, and my first-level dossiers upon them, compiled from various public records, both contemporary and historical. Several of these names were new to them, and the information was also new; in any case, they have not asked for more. That indicates to me that either their spying abilities are somewhat lacking, or that their capacity for intel analysis has several gaps in it. Perhaps, also, there are discontinuities in their memory." He drained his glass, and did not ask for a refill.

Setting the cup down beside him, he clasped his claws underneath his chin. "Consensus is likely to survive any attempts made to exterminate it; it has done so on multiple occasions. Diplomacy is the only path in which we stand to gain anything. I know what we risk losing by war; what do you suppose we have to lose by peace?"
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Re: Enemy Mine II (Rackenhammer, Sade)

Post by Sade »

“Let us consider a hypothetical scenario. You have a goal to which you are totally committed, however there are people out there who would try to stop you if you moved forward. You don’t know who all of them are, or where to find them. You cannot just go around killing everyone you meet, because even if you managed to kill one of the unknown targets, you would alert the others to your intentions. What you really need to know are the names and locations of the targets. What better way to gain that information than to approach a target you already know with an olive branch?”

“All those Feilans in your dossiers are going to die. You have signed their death warrants. Once Consensus is confident that it has the locations of every one of them, the rats will strike us all down simultaneously, and in doing so they will remove all who would oppose them. They will have a totally free hand to infiltrate and manipulate and exterminate, and when we finally reach the climax of this tale, the leadership which might have led the Feilans to claim victory from the jaws of defeat will not be there.”

“You talk of peace as if it is attainable. Of course we would have nothing to lose from peace, and I would like nothing more than for them to stop hunting me, but your question stands on a faulty premise; that peace is possible. We have to fight. There is no other option. War is inevitable.”

Tamas sat in silent thought for a few moments, stirring his own untouched cup with a finger. Moss meanwhile, drummed his fingers on the ice table, frowning. He looked displeased by the situation described by Tamas, but he also did not look convinced that the construct's black-and-white view was accurate. Still... "they tried to kill me back then, after Vedicus and the old Consensus were gone. When I arrived in this time, they tried to kill me again. I'd be dead if Tamas hadn't shown up. I just can't figure out why they would come after me like that. What threat am I to them?" Perhaps Tamas was right, and the new Consensus was hunting down anyone aware of their presence.

“Consensus is like a cancer on this world," Tamas abruptly continued his diatribe, still talking to Zech, "You have known people afflicted with cancer, have you not? They fight it. Invariably. Even when almost no chance exists for their recovery, they employ chemical warfare against their own bodies, they pierce themselves with shafts of deadly radiation, they sit before great machines, they drain their wealth and accrue debt at an unbelievable and ultimately unsustainable rate, for the slimmest chance, the mere quirk of statistical calculation that says even the most far gone have a chance.”

“Consensus might walk and talk and use language and think, but these are all trappings on a blight festering beneath the surface. You cannot make peace with cancer. But you can fight it, and you must do so. To give up fighting is to give up living.”
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Re: Enemy Mine II (Rackenhammer, Sade)

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Zechariah listened impassively to Tamas' 'Hypothetical scenario,' only remarking, "I do, of course, always keep in mind the possibility that I may be wrong." He phrased and intoned it as an admission on his part, but the implications towards the pseudo-rat were, he was sure, picked up neatly.

"I must confess that I find your view of war as a trifle erroneous." His claws were down now, tapping on his knee. He was not quite looking at his host as he spoke; the dragon's mind was trailing over memories. "The psychology does not permit for a medical metaphor; one may go through any amount of torture and expense to live, but every soldier who enlists has already agreed to die. There must either be something to love more than life, or to hate more than death. Nothing else will justify it, to those who must actually fight it."

His gaze returned to the present and the present company. "We did not actually attain victory. I say we; you made, as I remember, no actual contribution to our side. We did not in any way inflict a crippling blow upon Consensus; we only delayed their plans long enough for them to realize that putting them through would have ensured their own annihilation. They do not fight on principle like fanatics, nor by base biological instinct, like disease cells. The fight based on calculation. In point of fact, their assessment of war mirrors yours, or rather, yours mirrors theirs, as you bear the mark of your makers.

"As for Feila, the situation has some historical irony in it. We do, in fact, possess the technological capability to destroy Consensus, at the cost of our own annihilation. If hostilities re-open, it will inevitably escalate to this point. I will take what risks I deem acceptable to avoid that, and I will bear the responsibility for what follows." Zechariah rose to his feet, feeling that his statement rather served as a conclusion than a counter-argument, per se. This was not the first time he perceived fundamental differences opposed to a new accord.
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Re: Enemy Mine II (Rackenhammer, Sade)

Post by Sade »

“No,” Tamas said, clenching his fists, “you did not help them realize anything. You destroyed that Consensus. That mind- that… collection of ownerless thoughts stopped being, and what was left in its wake was chaos, a super-organism without a head, flailing about in the throes of both death and birth. I mirror that which you destroyed, that will and sense of purpose you robbed from me.” He stopped then. Zech was talking about the current state of affairs, technologically, and it was an argument against which he had no ammunition. War would lead inevitably to global catastrophe. In fact it would be much worse than a nuclear exchange. Tamas knew things this dragon did not, things which would probably horrify him, things the old Consensus left behind beneath the face of the world, of which the new Consensus might not even be aware.

Tamas was trapped in an impossible position from which there was no escape, which mirrored the current political and relational situation, so far as Consensus could be said to be political. He knew in his core that this new Consensus must be as deceitful and dangerous as the last Consensus, yet it was only an instinct, a feeling he could not shake, a thought which refused to be articulated logically. It was as if the end of the previous Consensus had triggered something in him, left him unable to cope with the new. That part of him knew with all the strength of his being that Consensus must be fought and destroyed. It was the only possible action.

And yet… Tamas did not want to die. Moss, here, either anticipated his train of thought, or, far less likely, read it in his expression, because Tamas was terrified by the things he was saying. The construct stood and turned away from them, the envelope of concentrated Purple Fey billowing with his agitation.

Moss had been watching Tamas. The rat’s face was all over the place in terms of expression, no longer stoic or under unnaturally perfect control as it had been in the distant past. It was a tapestry of expressions familiar and alien. It was a symptom of what was happening to the construct. That which was happening was one of the reasons they’d brought Zechariah here. “This is stupid. If Consensus wants to talk, we should talk! The other option is to keep hiding here, and this life, well, it isn’t really a life is it? I’d rather go and face them at this point, even if it meant death… and you can’t afford to keep hiding anymore. You need help, Tamas.”

He turned his attention to the dragon, “Tamas didn’t bring you here for all that,” he was talking about the conversation up to this point, “we need your help. We brought you here to try to… well, buy our freedom and our lives, I guess. Every time we’ve gone to Edwin or Gawain, or anywhere really, they’ve come out and tried to kill us, and we’ve had to run away. Consensus never tries to talk to us, they just attack. If you can get them to leave us alone, we can make ourselves useful to you… and also… Tamas…”

“I would gladly end my own life,” Tamas cut in, still facing away from them, “if I knew it would not be the end… if I knew there was something after, some place to go. I searched for many years, soliciting the aid of priests, prohpets, mystics, only to be cast out, demonized. I followed the path started by Vedicus when he took Trolon Rief, and I completed a journey that mad rat had only ever contemplated. I became Fey so that I could vassalize. I became Fey so that I could die, escape and pass on, and build a new life free of Consensus and their relentless pursuit, in a new place, far away from Feila. I tried to vassalize for many, many decades- far longer in the end than any Fey had ever lived. But try as I might to slip into that ocean, I could not drown.”

The rats shoulders slumped, and like so much of what had happened in the last hour, it was not a calculated move to elicit a response. In a thousand years he’d learned to despair. He shook his head, sending ripples through the visible Fey and the truly stupendous invisible field of energy radiating from him like the field lines of Feila’s magnetic poles. “I have no soul. I am a machine. Without that which you have and I do not, I cannot cross over to the other side. If I die, nothing will be left. All that I am will just… end… and… I am afraid.”

Now he turned to meet Zechariah’s eyes. A thousand years ago, he would have been able to glean so much from that face. As much control as Feilans like to believe they have over their faces, much happens subconsciously, unknown even to them. Now, however, the face was simply unreadable to him. That perceptive part of Tamas no longer functioned. So he just grimaced, and shook his head. “I’m dieing,” the voice was flat, bitter, angered by the fact of the matter, that he should have to solicit the aid of this creature. “I’m dieing and all the cosmic power I’ve accumulated across history cannot prevent it. Years of struggle have damaged me, severely, critically, on a fundamental level. I have lived far, far longer than intended, and I have gone places never considered in my design. I need repairs, and I need retooling. Such a thing will require facilities on a scale to which I have no access, and it will require expertise I lack.”

“Help me.”

“We will cooperate with your plans, whatever they are,” Moss said what Tamas could not. “Just help us end this nightmare.”
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