Thursday, June 17, 2021

The Uplift Protocol: Hidden Legacies Issue 21

 

Issue 21: House Murphy

 

            I finally admitted to Anna why I peered into the Weave around Typha: The pale birds. They were at my window for days. Singing their songs. Reminding me of the Forgers in a strange way. I didn’t sense anything wrong with them. I went through various stories. They had never represented any kind of evil in Typherian Myths. The records had very little to say on them overall. In retrospect, I should have realized why.—Gwen Murphy

            Damn, I should have referenced Earth myths. Our old magic users and shamans knew what was up. I'll do better by Gwen. Got the eggheads within Project Freefall on the case. The magical ones that are on duty that is. The Arcade Order had plenty to say about these “pale birds.” Often taking on different forms. Luring men and women to their deaths. Surprised J’ino didn’t lay into me for that one.—Anna McQuire

            The Lying House wasn’t just any individual’s bloodline or member. It was everyone corrupted by Set. Open to the suggestions of Unity. Willing or not. They were bred to be tools. That’s all it saw within people. Not souls or dreams: Blunt flesh to be used, abused, and then discarded into the vast gaping maw of Forever. House Murphy, yes: It was a smokescreen but it provided us a good way to have E’ratha make certain kinds of missteps. Along with the All-Father. They had their poisons while we had our building blocks. The Wall Endures isn’t just a saying. It’s a fundamental foundation of our Universe.—Sleeping in Starlight, a memoir of the 22nd century

Final Rest

Outer Shield World

Time Redacted *Security Clearance Required

 

Lorain stood before me, hands on her hips, her frown pensive. “Do you ever wonder if you should have said more to your younger self? I know I was tempted countless times to spill the beans.”

            The waters of the crystalline lake were calm. I crouched. Pulling five spheres from the water. Shaping them into a familiar crystallized dragon. The very same that guarded the evil beyond the boundaries of the Golden Path. Unity’s final prison.“In retrospect, it would have been great to know in the short term.” The long serpentine shape curled around my left hand. Marked with the old tattoo scar. Silver markings rippled across my skin. Reminding me of my Vigil. With my other hand, I pulled Lorain into a half hug.

            “Thank you for not spilling. I know it was arduous.”

            She grumbled, “You are stalling Eliza Murphy!”

            When she was playful, it was my human name. When concerned, the Typherian one.

            I replied, “I am glad I held back. The reality of that final fight would have come crashing in. Even now the Weave withholds some memories of my climb back from oblivion. There are  some things the living should not know.”

            She reached up and brushed my hair back. Her voice tender, “There is an innocence to your younger self I do miss.”

            I pulled her hand up to kiss her knuckles lightly, “Hard-won wisdom.”

            Lorain pulled back. Searching my face intently. Her smile relaxed when she found what she was looking for. She slapped my arm, “Cornfed!” I grinned in response to her pleas. A long howl split the night air. Cooper came bounding in, << PROMISE KEPT! BLESSED FRIENDS!>>

That black tail of his whirling a mile a minute.

            My tears fell unheeded.

            I opened my arms and he sprang into them, “Who’s a good boy?!”

            That heartfelt response, <<I AM! Do you have any bacon! It feels like forever since I had those delicious strips!>>

House Tower

Registry Level (Argax City)

September 19th, 2114

           

Thomas Murphy checked the final trappings of his Typherian ensemble. House Murphy’s colors would be Maroon. Typherian’s didn’t have an equivalent in their society. So Thomas would surprise his wife as well with the symbolism. Along with Black for honor and Silver denoting Life. His golden brooch holding the silver cape along his back was in the shape of a crystal Jar. He hoped it would make his family laugh. So many houses had dour sigils for their main banner marks. Mighty predator beasts roaming the plans, rivers, and cave systems of Typha. He grinned as he fixed the sunbursts on his collar. Representing Sol. Time to get this party started. J’dax took in the total ensemble. A hybrid of Typherian and Human design preferences. He smirked, “That will piss off all the right people.”

*****

            I asked Dexter, >>Finally going to get your time in the sun?<< His neatly trimmed beard wasn’t able to disguise his smile. Perfect white teeth.  Most were still under the impression he was my younger brother. We’d have to stick with that story a while longer. He was dressed in a simple robe. I was tempted to look at what color combo dad picked but decided to wait. I knew my old man wanted to spring this on everyone. Sul’sundra was on my left arm. With Lorain on my right. Dexter was doing the same with Mary and our mother. E’ratha stewed in the corner. Her cheeks burning with too many m’tes hits. A local wine.

            The blank-faced attendants next to her hiding a scout for the All-Father.

There was no question.

Gwen asked, >>I could…<<

Her request withered on the vine as mom snapped back, >>Grounded!<<

Tobin and Jace took up guard positions beside me. One? To showcase sibling cohesion. Two? They didn’t want to attract the ire of Momma Bear. Very wise. I didn’t either. Even at my age: Momma was formidable. Gwen was onboard the Jupiter. With my ship under the strictest orders to keep her there. Anna stood next to Y’lanasa. She proclaimed, “Nice of you to show up Golden Child!” Once an insult? Now a strange term of endearment. I walked over. A crystalline tone spilled out. The doorman announced, “Thomas Richard Murphy, Scion of his House. First of his Name. Honored Unioned Mate to J’ino Ayeer….” It went on for another solid two minutes. Mom’s toothy grin widened as my father descended the steps.

With that Jar symbol emblazoned on his golden cape brooch. Outlined in silver. With a solid black color. Maroon coat. White dress shirt under that.

Black pants. Silver Cape.

Dad must have hit a nerve because mom made a beeline to him and took up a subordinate position to him! Oh boy. This was going to be quite the dinner announcement. E’ratha screamed, “No man dominates Typherian women!”

Mom leaned up to kiss dad’s cheek, “Did you hear something? Was it the wind?”

Dad, in a rare display of public affection, leaned down to press a kiss on mom’s forehead.

“Not a thing my dear!”

            Anna rounded on E’ratha, her holo cam floating above her, “Any statements for the good people of Earth? Or the Commons? Or would you rather say Mud Monkey? I hear that is a favorite of yours!” Sul blinked in surprise as I pulled her and Doc into the Dreaming with me. There is was. A patch of distortion curled around E’ratha’s stormy outline. Anna must have sensed it too. White warned her brother. I could tell because of the vibrations coming off of her within the Dreaming.

*****

            Dexter pulled off his robe. Using it as a distraction. It flew through the air. Forcing Anna to move back as it sailed between both women. He used his speed and matter manipulation to keep it aloft. Parading it about the room under a mockery of a dance. Giving his sister enough time to get Anna to safety. E’ratha had no idea that a soul stealer grew within her. Where a normal baby would be. Black hissed, >>It reeks of Nyx’s handiwork.<<

            Black dared not say more this close to the enemy. They may know of Eliza’s status but as long as Dexter’s remained shrouded: they could keep their adversaries off balance a bit longer.

            Dexter swooped in, showcasing the uniform he was wearing.

            It was the newest uniform of the Terran Alliance. Around his waist? The House Murphy sash. He pulled Anna towards his parents, “Let’s cover more interesting topics shall we?” Anna noted the disgust in his eyes. Not aimed at her but E’ratha.

            McQuire clammed down on her curiosity.

            That had nearly undone Gwen here.

*****

            E’ratha clutched her head. Blood pounding.

            What was wrong with her?! Her biometrics noted the wines in her system but said nothing else. A seed of worry bloomed within the back of her mind. She had a good tolerance for illegal and recreational substances. She ran the diagnostic again.

            Behind her, the All-Mother’s shell form recorded the stimuli. Nyx was correct. What Set had done made some House lines perfect for the job of birthing new armies. She would have to push E’ratha further. Distract her from the thing growing within. It was a pity they’d lose some of the original host's flesh but that could be remedied with the birth chambers back on Tarkanan. Then all they’d need was to reset some of her memories.

            They had done it over half a dozen times already.

            It was regrettable that E’ratha had so little time left though.

            The All-Mother smiled brightly as the Brood Mother whirled. Demanding, “What is this?! Take me to my chambers. I'll have to flush my system. It's not like anything important is happening here anyway.”

            E’ratha’s flesh would give the fires of Urranden one last gift.

*****

High above Horus observed the readouts from E’ratha’s biosignature. His link with Goldenlight within Project Freefall updating the various protectors within Earth’s Weavespace. The Soul Eater would be the arbiter of her fate. If they gave any indication of what was coming it would tip off Urraden early. It was the choice that would save more Typherian lives than not. Lives that didn’t even realize they were being used for meat puppets at best. Cannon Fodder at worst.

            Horus gained a new appreciation for certain kinds of ignorance.

            What he knew via the Ur-Stone: He wouldn’t wish upon friends let alone enemies.

            The information was compartmentalized. No one had the full picture. Each relying on various teams to set the future in motion.

            Faith, fire, and the weight of all would fall to Eliza.

            Atonement didn’t even cover it.

            Goldenlight remarked, <<The Weave chooses individuals it knows can bear the weight. The mercy is in keeping her innocence alive for as long as possible. It will be a shield against all forms of oblivion.>>

            Gwen Murphy had seen but a glimpse of the Lies within Unity.

            The F.R.A.M dived towards the Registry Ball. Taking in the last words of E’ratha, for she was drunk enough that she muttered them audibly, “I will have my Throne.”

            She would preside over nothing but ashen dreams.

            Horus released probes into the sky. Tracking the individuals mentioned by Samantha. The Lost Ones. The forgotten of Typha. Unity would not take those children. No matter the sins of their parent House. Project Lighthouse would save as many as it could. Many Houses arrayed against the Commons and the Triumative, as they called Ayeer, Odessen and M’tah nowadays, had many undesired castoffs. Horus would help place them with families who desired children. Many Human and Typherian couples fit that model.

            While it wasn’t mainstream with many Houses: The Commons of Typha had taken a shine to humanity. Horus only hoped this would further distort the hold Set had over people. He positioned himself just over Eliza’s head. Shrinking to the size of a typical baseball.

            Recording everything.

J’ino had insisted upon it.

The Birthing Pits

Tarkanan

Zygotic Expanse

           

The dim green fires flickered in the distance. The heavy ozone rippling over the artificial planet, adding to the haze, making the Keeper woman scratch at her cross-shaped scar.

Sister Nyx reviewed the records.

            One of the early models had crippled the Star-Spangled Banner’s cosmic fire hand trick. An early probe into Area 51’s defenses. Both human and uplifted side. It had been a delightful study. Chronos had commended her on her scientific insight. Melding Artock with Forger had produced a brute of a creature. One that civilized races had no name for other than death. It had helped that she had farmed a neighboring alternate universe. Finding a strain of Forgers still in their nascent stage. Living deep within the earth of their home. No techbase to speak of.

            She had paid dearly for that venture but the payoff had been worth it.

            The forces stationed along the Ouroborous Wall would certainly ID her ship the next time she tried to shift to that universe. But she didn’t need to farm it for additional flesh. The cloning vats of the All-Father provided enough material.

            Mixed with E’ratha’s house ability of telekinesis? An absolute monster.

            It would need no name. But she mused, “Perhaps our addled brained enemies will come up with something amusing!” She pressed her palm to the glass. Within the murky brown fluid, her hybrid weapon shifted. Yes, the best of the Artock. The Forgers and E’ratha’s misguided faith and flesh. She purred, “Mommas gonna buy you a mocking bird. If that bird…”

*****

            Gwen paced about the Jupiter Rising. Clutching her head. Nothing. No hint of what was to come. She entered the rec area. Running through a simple set of push-ups, sit-ups, and short bursts of sprints. All to keep her mind off the sliver of vision she remembered. The torn and bleached bodies of her older brother and sister. Those hollowed-out thrones. Numerous dragons devouring the suns of all universes. She let out a yelp when Comet rounded the corner. The U-Markav probe trilled, <<You must not access the Weave here! Anna said so!>>

The deep green sphere’s yellow iris expanded.

Waiting.

            Gwen slumped to the ground, “Eliza and Dexter need me! My visions! I am stronger than Tobin and Jace when it comes to that!”

            Comet responded, <<They need you functioning. Not driven mad by the Unity corruption.>>

He nudged her.

“Answers will come in time. Do not rush such matters. What you will find may not be optimal! I should know. They rescued me from the Last Vigil! At the cost of an Omega!”

She had read about that. The floor heated slightly as she rested against the rec wall.

 Jupiter added, <<The House Ceremony has ended. House Murphy has joined the Commons and Remaining Loyalist Houses together. Thomas Murphy now has a seat on the council but passed it to Dexter Murphy.>>

            That lingering vision remained.

            She shivered and crossed her arms.

            “I can’t give up!”

            She would find a way to prevent that vision from occurring.

*****

            Comet linked in with Horus, <<Little one is stubborn. We must keep her far from Typha for now. She will not heed Anna’s words. A string of false Prophecy clings to her Weave Sight.>>

            Horus replied, <<Noted. Inform the Arcane Order. I will be along shortly. The time of hiding is ending. We will board their Dweller Gate. Recall personnel. We shall return to Earth to resupply.>>

            Thomas Murphy raised his fist, “Earth and Typha united!”

            Ta’len cheered.

Taking special note of the withdrawn House members. Y’lansa’s hearty bellows were also noted. He grinned. Imagining the look on her face when he presented his Union gifts to her. Unknown to her he had asked her father for permission. Not wanting to blindside the older man. His response had been shocking but gleeful, “I am glad she has someone. I was worried I’d never become a grandfather!”

Y’lansa nudged Eliza, “What is up with him?”

*****

            I sampled Ta’len’s emotions. He was happy. Content with the turnout of events. But a hidden fire of desire roared to the forefront when his gaze met Y’lansa’s. Mom linked A’tan Odessen’s mind to mine.

            >>He has a special request. Would you be the honored second to a Union proclamation?<<

            I was rendered speechless.

            Mom’s worried mental shove got me moving again. So to speak.

            >>Forgive me. I was taken aback. Not because of the pairing but of the boldness of it.<<

            A’tan laughed, >>You were the one who broke that beachhead, my dear!<<

            Lorain raised her wineglass in my direction. Her emerald eyes twinkling.

            “Alright! You have it Mr. Odessen!”

            Y’lansa’s confusion hit me full force.

            He smiled at his daughter.

            “Let’s go join the festivities. This is a new rebirth for all of us!”

Issue 20: Here

Issue 22:

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

The Uplift Protocol: Hidden Legacies Issue 20

 

Issue 20: The Father Revealed

 

            Unlike my home universe: The Urraden House lives on. The Typherian civil war decimated many in my world. They thought the Ayeers could bring forth peace. I gave them peace. Of the grave. I still have a score to settle with the United Earth Front. They meddled. One of them even took an Odessen as a trophy union piece. I will return to my point of origin and continue my Throne Breaking.—Thoth

            My mirror cloaks himself in righteous fury. That can be channeled. We all use each other. Our enemies think themselves above this base fact. They delude themselves. The only ones dumb enough to believe in “inherent goodness” are those drooling mongrels from Bardax.—The All-Father

            After the Arcway of Nival came fully online, the Tree of Eden network had a foothold beyond the local cluster of the Milky Way Galaxy. One universe is big enough? But the countless numbers relying on our dear Edenverse? More than I could ever fathom. Even after all these long eons. We had barely missed a bullet.  It wasn’t just Karvax arrayed against my grandfather. The All-Father sent backup. The wound that Thoth gave me that day left a permanent scar. Just under my left rib. No amount of Lorain’s healing power could remove it. For those hand claws were of Unity’s direct creation. Just shy of Creation level. But if I hadn’t jumped in, my little brother and my grandfather wouldn’t have been counted among the living.—Sleeping in Starlight, a memoir of the 22nd century

Mid Ring Docking

Typha

September 15th, 2114

           

Karvax snorted.

            This place reeked of peace, love, and joy. That wouldn’t do. He checked his Chrono.

            The parade would be within the next few days. He would be ready. He glanced at X’mil. Noting the bags under the smaller man’s eyes. Made the big demi brute thankful he didn’t possess any hint of Shaman's ability. Just bad for the complexion. A visual alert ran across his H.U.D.

            A rather perky blonde Typherian woman was saying, <<….I repeat, the Forger Homeworld is now a part of the Unioned Network. Please stand by for further….>>

            X’mil held back an ugly laugh, “That’s rich. What wonders will they pull next?”

            Karvax rolled his shoulders, “Let’s go. Heard some of the liquor is decent!” He was still a mountain of a man but his skin tone and hair had been altered. His cover records stating he had been in a mining accident. Those were common enough, even with the added tech protection out in the void. So his additional hardware wouldn’t raise much suspicion. It was why he had to leave Bright Eyes behind.  That didn’t sit well with him but he had no choice. Even though V’alkor was the target, he heard rumors that some of Earth’s top demis would be attending as well. That meant the Golden Dart would be here. He grinned savagely. Clapping X’mil on the shoulder. The former attendant's features had been altered as well.

            “Let’s just get this date over with!”

            The customs officer waved them over to the scanners.

            The creature that the All-Father had implanted in Karvax so long ago was slumbering. Each part of its being wrapped around separate parts of the giant’s body. It was the only way to get certain things past such a device. Like its Intez inspiration, it could divide itself to remain cloaked within its host. The officer frowned and brought up the IDs.

            Karl McPhearson and Hul’an of House Xarka. A simple miner of Neo Grand Hylis, a frontier world on the cutting end of the Milky Way, alongside his 5th Auxillary farming associate. Xarka was one of the neutral Houses since its primary goals involved feeding the Ascendancy. Most of its members were pragmatic to a fault. Its motto, “What grows endures” described the personality as well. Families and farming. Karvax knew that hit X’mil in the face like a wet fish but the human didn’t care what the little weasel of a Typherian wanted.

            “Why you humans insist on such dangerous work without proper 5th generation anti-grav gear…”

            Karvax gave a hearty snort, “Unlike the rest of my family, I’ve always been a thrill-seeker. Comes with the territory!”

X’mil dared not speak. He wasn’t as good of an actor as Karvax. The big brute had a rough charm the other man would never acquire. The anger radiating off X’mil made Karvax lean in and wink roguishly at the officer, “He’s here because he’s got a lady friend in port who’s needing a “voice of paternal rite.” The Commons Typherian winced. “Ahhh. Of course!”

While many Houses resisted the changes on Typha, Karvax was hoping this cover would do the trick for now, since the Commons were more accepting of 3rd or 4th auxiliary House branches marrying into Common Clans or to more prominent “free-thinking” Houses like Ayeer, Odessen or M’tah. The paternal rite was a way of saying, “This House bloodline is in dispute because they have too many genetic castoffs or mutes.” The All-Father had made him read all the gag-worthy updates. X’mil’s former House status would be far too apparent in his manner so his ID was of a minor aux who “knocked” up a higher-level House official. The scandal setup was common enough. But since that community cared about having rabbit level of offspring, the demi held his breath.

The officer waved them forward, offering condolences. “I do hope you can claim the rites. Children should have a father!” X’mil nodded jerkily. Still not trusting himself to speak. It was an abject humiliation. He could no longer sire children due to what she did to his nodes. Her vote had condemned him.

            His dark shaman marks itched under the synth skin coverings.

            Only a bit longer. Then he could unleash his power.

            Karvax waved farewell and ambled next to X’mil. “Let’s get some grub. Not gonna do anything on an empty stomach.”

*****

            Gwen Murphy paused. Trouble and Gulliver pulling up short next to her. Their orange bills clamping down tightly as they glanced about. Testing the air. When a Weave Speaker had a reaction her protectors expected the worst. Her copper and black eyes rolling back into her head as Trouble caught her with his Defender powers. Her uncle J’dax darted forward. Cradling her. He raced towards the Ayeer compound. As he entered the main courtyard, Tobin and Jace took up defensive positions.

            The King’s Own materialized from their hidden alcoves. Their rifles fixed on every possible corner of attack. J’dax carried his niece into the medical wing. The machines linking with her biometric readouts.

            <<Uknown neural event transpiring. Mainline Ayeer family in route.>>

            Within moments Q’vera, M’taris and V’alkor were present. J’dax caught a glimmer from the corner of his eye. A High Guard. The fighter had let him know he was here. That meant the planetary regiment for the King’s Own was present. All cloaked. Sharp clacks echoed across the flooring.

Anna McQuire had arrived. Her dark flinty blue-gray eyes smoldering.

            “Gwendolyn Alice Murphy.” She pulled off her white Weave blunting gloves. Placing her hands on each of Gwen’s temples. She shared a look with V’alkor. He made a cutting motion and the medical wing sealed itself. M’taris gripped her husband’s hand. Within Gwen’s mindscape was a burning tree. Anna hissed, “I told you not to look.”

She glanced at Trouble. “Place an Omega shield around us. This is going to get rough.”

The black-feathered duck quacked softly in reply, <<Noted.>>

Gulliver called out to Lanis along the Defender line, <<Don’t let Hot Sause over here. Or Mama Bear. Dexter and Thomas know better. Let Anna work her magic!>>

            J’dax shuddered.

Sensing his sister’s alarm over the Family line.

Somehow she knew Gwen was trapped in a vice.

J’dax roared, >>Anna will walk Gwen through it. Have faith in her Speaker abilities! Gwen does! <<

The Jupiter Rising

Normal Space (FLT Transit)

Destination: Forger Shield World Amali

           

I pulled mom into an embrace. One, to prevent her from pulling Jupiter Rising apart. Two? The biting glare she was shooting at Doc had me worried. I normally didn’t do this without asking but I placed an empathetic block on mom’s sharpest bursts of rage. So Gwen and the others would be spared the brunt of it. She bellowed, “Use that belt of yours and teleport to my baby!” Lorain reared back like she had been slapped. Then she shook herself like a Bardaxian during a rainstorm.

Mom’s guilt was a spear through my chest.

Because she hadn’t been able to be with her other children in the same way as me.

Knowing how everyone felt at that moment helped.

Her green eyes narrowing, “I can’t. Your father put the whole Ayeer complex on lockdown. Including the highly classified parts.” Mom hung her head. Her pulse going a mile a minute. Dad stormed onto the bridge.  Placing himself in front of me and mom. “Everyone leave. Yes, you too Space Cadet.” He pulled mom over to the upper conference area of the bridge and sealed the doors. The rest of us maneuvered outside. I asked Jupiter, “There’s more to that lockdown I bet.”

She responded, “Indeed. While outsiders will never notice, other Houses will take similar measures by V’alkor’s show of might. Gwen has complicated a certain sequence of events.”

Even my ship knew more than me.

I glanced at Dexter, his face was impassive. Eyes glassy. The faint outline of his Throne crown phasing in for a brief millisecond. He shook himself then glanced at Doc. She nodded. “Understood.” Then she pulled me over and dragged me to the recreation level. “I'll brief you on our next Forger stop. Anna will handle it ok?”

I rose a few inches into the air. Carrying Lorain in my arms.

“Got it. Think I’ll ever let myself know the whole picture?”

She smiled but it didn’t reach her eyes.

That bad then. I put on a brave face. Smiling I replied, “Let’s handle one step at a time then.” I sorely wanted to fly to Typha. I could be there and back again before anyone noticed my absence. Doc poked my nose. Leaning to whisper into my ear, “All the wrong people would notice your frantic flight. Why would the scion return if there wasn’t trouble at home. Who does she protect?”

I reached the main rec level. The doors slid open, “This will help Gwen? Me just flying off to…” Doc nodded rapidly. “The shutdown already drew less than savory eyes. We mustn’t compound it.”

*****

            Thomas placed the message before his wife’s eyes.

            48%

            Her eyes clung to that number. It rose another 3 points.

            Teddy’s writing clearly visible.

            Her voice broke, “Why our children? Why…”

            Thomas reached out to pull his wife in close.

            His voice quiet among the hum of instrumentation and faint readouts.

            “Across a sea of stars, I found my place. We may toil but we will find rest. Guided by the flame of Creation.” It was an old Markav prayer. Of the Exodus. He was fond of the many sayings his fellow sapients came up with. Knowing that no one ever really walked alone. J’ino rested her cheek against his chest. She stubbornly rubbed her face. “I won’t cry.” Thomas nodded along with her. Even as her tears ran through the cloth material of his daytime clothing.

            He said nothing as he pulled her to the side couch near the small coffee table. Jupiter ran the preferred combinations. The aroma hanging in the air. Thomas prayed it would bring a small flicker of comfort. He continued to pointedly ignore the glimmer of tears as she reached out to drink her hot chocolate. Eventually, she managed to say, “I’ll apologize to Lorain. I shouldn’t have…”

            Thomas thumbed away another errant tear.

            Glancing at the updated note: 58%

*****

            Gwen Murphy stared at the destruction around her. Every aspect, artificial and living upon the surface of Typha was decimated. Withered. At the apex of the bodies littered about was a man cackling. His crown of bones gleaming in the rays of the dying twin suns that hung overhead. Leathered wings sprouted from his back. The world shifted. He was standing next to her. Taking her hand. His voice dripping with excitement, “Do you see it? The wonders I have created! Just as you wished it.” Gwen couldn’t remove her hand. Her body was not her own.

            She glanced down at her body. Horrified.

            Ancient, bent, and broken.

            No reflective surface to let her see the face.

            She wasn’t sure if she wanted to know.

            One thought rose to the surface: Why had she slipped into the Weave here? It wasn’t safe. It wasn’t….

            Two warped hunchback silhouettes followed. Their feet dragging in the muck.

            Pale blank faces turned towards the eclipsed suns.

            “We have one in our net. Yes. Shall we eat it?”

            The other grunted, “No. Not yet. Another light entered this place.”

            Their child-like giggles curled around Gwen.

            The scent of burning bodies filled her nostrils.

            The King of Bones lifted her chin towards what used to be the Seat of Typha.

            The dark infused mass rippled.

Oily tendrils sucking at the ground beneath scaled feet.

            He pulled her towards that writhing maw. “Upon the broken branch beats the heart of what was.” Within that velvety gloom, a familiar set of heartbeats resounded.

            No, no, no, no!

            Gwen couldn't shut her eyes.

Two desiccated corpses sat upon two thrones. One achingly bright. The other was carved from ebony. Their iconic weapons shattered at their feet. What little of the uniform’s remained confirmed it. There sat her siblings. Their bleached bones open to the elements. Words formed around the ashen dais.

///The circle is completed. A monument to their hubris.///

A pair of hands gripped Gwen’s shoulders. Turning her away from that site. Into the pitch-black orbs of Chronos. Her hands pulled at her belt. Firing a shot into his chest. Her voice was not her own. “Thank you, father. Now the way is open!”

Other bodies were arrayed around her.

Gwen knew them all from her nightmares.

The All-Father,Urraden blood bound feud. The All-Mother, his assassin wife. Medusa.

The mummy of the Everliving Death.

Countless others. The endless refrain:

The Golden Walls lie dormant. The blood-red tide is lapping at the shores. The truth was birthed from the corpse of the old.

Cold metal glinted within the waxing starlight.

The king’s eyes smoldered with an inner yellow flame.

“Do you see it?”

The Gray Herald’s corpse rested below the dais. His arms crossed.

Another failure.

The crown of bones clattered to the ground.

Dark mirrors materialized above her. A man with a bloodied sword walked towards her. His black hair was cut short. His eyes the black within black of a Keeper. He pointed the blade at her, “You go too far. Little bird.” He raised the blade high above his head. The symbols of black scrawl dancing across its tarnished surface.

The pale ones halted.

Their blank faces pealing back, revealing sharped rows of teeth, “NO! OURS TO HAVE!”

*****

            Anna darted across the corrupted vision. She bit her lip until the copper tang filled her mouth. Where was Gwen!? She centered herself. Pointedly ignoring the hellscape around her. This place was filled with lies. With that one core of truth that Unity wanted to twist. Typha was the last place one should use their Weave ability on. The stronger the person was, the worse it got, to the point that if Anna didn’t locate Gwen soon the falsehoods would cloud her vision forever!

            She muttered, “Not today. Not ever you fiend. I nearly made that mistake once before!”

            She found Gwen trembling. Body swaying as she hugged herself. “Blood will call to blood!”

 With her right hand, Anna pressed her palm into the very most top of the girl’s shoulder blades. “What did I tell you?! You little shit. NO PEEKING IN UNDESIRABLE LOCATIONS!” She cocked her leg back. Aiming a swift kick to Gwen’s behind. That made the girl spin in place.

            “Teacher!”, she exclaimed.

            Anna shot the two pale monstrosities a rather special salute and faded from view. Taking her idiotic protégée with her.

The girl sputtered and her eyes snapped open.

            The concerned faces of her grandparents coming into focus. Along with two warm weights on her chest. Two ducks quacked rapidly.

Feathers rustling as Anna shouted each word.

 “DO! NOT! GO! INTO! THE! WEAVE! HERE!”

A few more choice words were muttered. Mostly about foolhardy Murphy brats, too noble for their own good, with V’alkor adding, “Thank you, Anna.” The holo-host poked Gwen in the chest for emphasis, “I am officially grounding you. Back to basics.” Gwen’s crestfallen features drooped even further as she felt the Weave sense slam shut. With Anna locking away the key.

The blurred reflections of her family crowded in as she sobbed.

*****

            Tobin wanted to be angry. But Anna was right. Why had Gwen done such a foolish act?!

            Jace gripped his practice blade. The hilt biting into his palm.

            Anna faced the reflective surface of the mirror. The pale ones faded from view but not before she beheld the Burning Tree. Eliza and Dexter hanging from a noose. She pulled her gloves back on. Forcing Gwen to place her’s on as well. The voices faded. The scent of old death receeded. She rubbed her temples, “I need a drink.”

*****

            Thomas rose from the bed they shared on the Jupiter Rising.

Bringing the message over to his wife. Her gaze resting on it.

            ///Certain Parties request that we send Gwen to you. A squad of High Fighters of the King's Own will be in attendance. Along with two avian friends.///

            J’ino’s gray-green irises expanded. Thomas knew that look quite well.

            For it was usually reserved for Jace or Tobin.

            “She is grounded forever.”

*****

The Pale Ones circled the Throne of Bones. It was too bad the Weave Speaker had escaped. It would have added to the collection! Each of Unity’s Serpents was strongest here. Made for slim pickings though. They always got the most bountiful of the Lying House’s finest morsels.

Another time. They would weave a tune that no Speaker could resist.

The King of Bone and Ruin would reign. Alongside his Bride.

Unity only had to choose.

Issue 19: Here

Issue 21: Here