"How long are we going to be waiting here?" asked Awin. The sound of wind rustling through the nearby pine trees had changed from soothing to bothering him. Where was Tak?
Shifting about in his cardboard box, Awin settled into a new position, his hind legs having started to give him pins and needles.
Just above floated a Parafloat called Lum-lum. Awin fancied that it was a girl Parafloat, because it had recently flowered, and flowers were things girls liked. A boy would probably have produced rocks or something.
Lum-lum had not been strong enough to carry Awin and his box, so had just helped drag it across the countryside. This was Awin's first trip and he had borrowed Lum-lum to help him on his travels. The balloon beast of burden had not proven terribly useful thus far.
Looking down into his box, Awin assessed its contents. One bouncy ball, some grass rope, three beads of different colours, a small broken display monitor, and a book not in a language he understood. His slow deliberation was punctuated by the grass making waves as a sudden strong wind passed over it. Carefully scooping up the beads and the ball, Awin turned to Lum-lum.
"I don't suppose you'd be able to manage these? They're not very heavy. I'll let you carry them if you promise not to spill any out," coaxed Awin to the bobbing creature. Its glassy eyes seemed to shift downwards, though not quite to where Awin was. Rotating ever so slightly to face the box, Awin took that as agreement and leant towards the balloon. Stretching out his arm to reach the edge of Lum-lum's pouch, he gingerly tipped his hand to spill the contents into the creature. Watching each object fall to make sure nothing was lost, Awin nodded and fell back into his box.
"Now we'll be ready for Tak. Sure hope he gets here before lunch. I don't want to be around when the three o'clock beetles come out," mumbled Awin quietly, staring off across the featureless grassy hills.
Rattling harmony across the void. There were many here, layers of one. Spinning slicing scythes, it detected a change. Expected.
The response came back immediately. A warm greeting from another's old family. Long dead were they, but newly born was this ancient one, and rarely did something new above the heavens cry out from the darkness. This little sound that wasn't meant to be heard was a treasure and a doorway, one with the key still in the lock, yet unturned.
Throwing out a spume of matter from a fore limb, the infant spun around and observed that door. In a wall it was set, but the wall did not connect on all sides. With ease did it rotate around the open face, to stare at the secret other side. This was where the key sought to reach, with such struggle and loss. How curious it was, that now another could arrive so very much later and achieve the key's desire with an effort no greater than breathing.
And from the other side of that door came an infinitessimally small cry in the darkness, and there another door, and in it another key.
Around the wind smoothed peaks flew Eraxi on his four thin wings, wind ruffling the soft fur over his body in rhythmic waves. With the suns obscured by the split clouds, the light seemed as at dusk. As water hit the dusty soil, the welcome smell of water flooded the atmosphere. It was tumultuous day.
Far below travelled the caravan, safe from sight and sound. Their forged path was quickly swept away by the coming rains. Flipping over once, then twice, Eraxi signalled a change in course. The plains ahead were flooding and this offered a better way to cover their tracks. Slowing to observe the little avian's acrobatics, the caravan tilted and turned, heading off to the south west.
"May not the wolves find us," thought Eraxi.
Generators were at 80% power according to the floor console's report. The recent damage had all but crashed the ship into the nearby gas giant. Momentum and detonating the bridge had been the only thing that averted that disaster.
But now a cold wind swept through the tunnels of the ship. Spindly eye stalks swayed nervously. Oozing forward and raising on air sacs, an eye palp slapped the floor, advancing to read-outs on the next ship's systems.
An alarming squawk erupted from the computer. Light bulb eyes turned downwards awkwardly, bobbing over the blinking display. As the erratic binocular vision aligned, warm thoughts suffused the hollow body.
"Weapon systems online."
Faemydi's body seemed to tear apart like birch bark, vast tendrils and shapes emerging from within. The dormant power within her exploded forth, overwhelming her. She had blindly invoked all her power at the dark mist creature, and in so doing passed her full strength to that which lay within: the Mrough.
Its spirit twisted and uncoiled, finally unleashed to wreak its given task. What it saw was the assembled masses of the Pimi-Mele, and using Faemydi's powers, more of them spread across the globe. Before it was a growing mass of malevolent evil, something that would extinguish all life it touched. If it did not act soon, there would be no living Pimi-Mele left in existence.
Launching thin grappling arms forth, it struck the massive shape. The suffocating power of the dark mist did not affect the Mrough, but instead recoiled from its touch. But the tentacles dug deep into it, seizing control. The spreading mists ceased and quickly reversed, pulling back into itself. It thrashed under the determined grasp of the ancient force.
Down below, the Empress, her guards, and all the others watched. The blue traveller smiled, excited.
"She's doing it! She's going to save us all!", he exclaimed to the guardian Nii.
The black hat turned to him and those glassy eyes sparkled. In barely a whisper, it replied, "She will save some of us. But it is we who will save her."
"What do you mean?" he asked, unsettled.
Up above they saw the black creature of mist dying, quickly dissipating into the air. It moaned pitifully, but none felt sorry for its loss. Ashen particles drifted to the ground below it like a black snowfall.
Nii prodded his blue companion. A small Pimi-Mele was approaching from the forest, bearing a small object. As it neared, it lifted the object to the blue one. It was a small violet cane.
"Take it, Beet," said Nii. "Place it in Key's hands. It is almost time."
Not fully understanding, but recognising the cane, he dashed over to his unconscious companion, the shelled creature they had pulled from the frozen realm named Key. This object had wrought great forces when held by this small mute being. Delicately slipping the cane handle under Key's paw, Beet stepped back.
Those lidless eyes had never closed, even after Key fell, but suddenly they seemed to have awareness. The cane reoriented, the shelled one sat up. Lifting its head inquiringly at Beet, it struggled to stand. Beet helped it up, then pointed to the battle occurring in the sky.
"We'll be ok, it's Faemydi, she's helping us!" said Beet encouragingly.
Key looked at the sky grimly, then at Nii. The guardian met Key's gaze and gave it a knowing look, then returned to watch the sky.
The creature of dark mist was now completely destroyed, the last of its mass somehow evaporated into the air by the Mrough. Like a fantastic victory trophy, the great mass of confused anatomy hung in the sky, a beacon for all to see. Then Key lifted the cane and shot something into the air.
A blinding green light cracked through the air, opening a chasm in space and time. Within was a small blue mass, growing rapidly in size. Beet squinted to see what was coming through.
"What is it?" asked Beet of Nii.
"A vessel," said Nii.
From within that crack in space emerged a smooth finned creature with large eyes. It was in fact a massive fish! Somehow it was able to fly and with a flourish of one fin it brought Key towards it, pulling the little creature through the air.
Meeting nose to nose, the fish said to Key, "Evening, sir Key. Fishington here! I do say, that was rather a peculiar trip. It was rather nice to pay a visit back home. I have your package here, if you are ready for it." Looking at the Mrough, Key then nodded at Fishington.
Above, the Mrough stirred. It had stopped the dark mist from destroying the Pimi-Mele. Now it was free to enact its destiny. A small force within struggled, desperately fighting to regain control. The Mrough was unaffected. It held the consumed mass of the malevolent mist creature, and with an effort of will, converted it and sent it down in a dark torrent.
The jubilant emotions of the hymenopterans and Beet below changed to concern, then fear.
"Nii, what is it doing?" Beet cried out.
Across the field the singing particle storm hit the ground where a mass of Pimi-Mele stood. Tearing through them, Beet watched as their bodies rapidly dissipated. The cloud swirled about, moving on to the other gatherings of Pimi-Mele. The Empress and her guards scattered, fleeing into the west.
Nii turned to Beet, an emptiness in its eyes, and answered, "It is doing what it was always meant to do. The Mrough can only destroy the Pimi-Mele. To save this world and the faerie Faemydi, we make this sacrifice."
"What?! No, you can't!" screamed Beet.
"Goodbye, Beet. You will return home someday," said Nii, bracing against the coming storm.
"NO!" bellowed Beet.
With a horrible gust, the swarm of consuming particles blew into the two of them. Passing Beet by, they fell upon Nii. Its black furry hat and red regal robes blew in the wind for as long as they withstood the destructive force of the Mrough. In a terrible moment, the guardian was gone.
The planet jerked and tilted as the Mrough scoured every corner for surviving Pimi-Mele. City by city, country by country, continent by continent it found them all. In the space of a few moments it had obliterated an entire race. Then it was silent.
A scream echoed from within the Mrough. Its form blurred and weakened. Then suddenly the faerie Faemydi shot out of it, separate from it, free! Tears filled her eyes, her hands holding her face as she beheld the ultimate destruction of the innocent people.
Seeing that it was now done, Fishington turned and lifted a fin, under which he held a very small tadpole. With careful aim, he tossed that little tadpole up into the air directly into a column of the disintegrating particles of the Mrough.
Then calling after the little creature, Fishington said, "Teiru! It's your time to fly!"
Teiru the tadpole floated through the air with glee, not knowing or understanding anything about the Mrough or the Pimi-Mele. As his body struck the form of the Mrough, it reacted. As air pulling into a vacuum, the Mrough's gradually vaporous form drained into Teiru's body. Then, instead of falling to the earth, Teiru suddenly gained control of that ancient spirit, and the ancient spirit gained control of Teiru. But now that the ancient one had accomplished its goal, it had no more purpose in existence, so it latched onto the goals of the mind it touched, Teiru's.
"I want to fly!" thought Teiru.
Up he shot, higher and faster than any fish he had ever seen through that mirror dividing the worlds.
Turning to return to the green chasm of light, Fishington smiled and wished the tadpole well.
"Fly, Teiru, fly."
Po Ta Nu Se Ki tossed the plasma torch at the creature bounding towards them and with his other hand fired a positron shot at it just as it reached the creature's maw. The fuel cell exploded violently, blowing apart the flesh of the creature's mouth and head, splattering the interior of the ship and rending a large hole in the hull below it.
The sound of more large movement came as his hearing returned after the ringing from the blast dissipated. Xecia stood up, reviewing the scene outside. There were numerous "things" prowling about and the portal now showed vastly increased activity. Metal shunts, robotic arms, and other semi-organic technological implements were furiously extending themselves out into the Andonian plains. The portal itself, wrapped in that initial amorphous metallic creature, was now barely visible among all the new construction. Something very dangerous was getting a foothold on this world.
"There's more coming!" screamed Po Ta Nu Se Ki, his hands shaking as he quickly assembled a long range sniper rifle, rigging the firing mechanism for continuous discharge.
A small thing slithered around the smoking hole in the floor, its eyes nothing more than black sockets, perhaps mouths. With frenzied flick of his wrist, Po pulled a smaller pistol from behind him and fired on the thing, exploding it where it lay.
"You showed her this, Se?" asked Xecia, staring out at the ominous structure.
Too mentally invested in his work on the sidearms, he failed to reply. The orbs about his head swirled around agitatedly. One of them bore a scarred eye, sealed shut.
A puff of air blew Xecia's hair about and Po raised his newly assembled rifle, squeezing the trigger reflexively.
Before them stood a small girl wearing a long scarf, winter jacket, mismatching pink skirt, and yellow rain boots. Her hair was tied up in a ponytail and she smirked at them impishly. Po's weapon fired straight into her palm five times before he realised what it was he was firing on.
Xecia slapped the weapon out of his hands, then turned to the girl. She still stood, unscathed, her palm clean and whole. Stepping around the startled pair, she gazed out the window down at the sight below.
"Why is that there? Who's making gates? Did you know it's not safe to open gates inside those machines? They'll eat your planet," she said cheerfully.
"We were hoping you might have a way to close it," said Xecia carefully.
Looking back at Xecia, she looked startled, then even happier. "Oh, hey! Xecia! You look exactly like the other one, but older. Not lots older. Maybe you just need to do something with your face."
A high pitched keening cry came from the lower hold of the shuttle, then a lancing wind. Po scrambled to find the rifle on the floor as something covered with legs dived through the air at them. Flicking her arm behind her, the creature fell out of sight and was silent. Po raised his rifle, but stopped when nothing presented a target. One of the orbs circling his head descended and touched him. Its expression changed to one of fear and surprise, while Po smiled with relief.
"You can help us," said Ki Nu Po Ta Se, setting the rifle aside.
"Yep! You guys stay here. I don't think there'll be any more of those nasty things," she said, then walked into the window and vanished.
Outside they watched the metallic gate, chittering away with bizarre activity. To the far left they saw a massive terror lunging across the terrain. Its legs were twisted backwards with no foot at the end. Twisted gnarled arms protruded from the sides of its head and numerous glowing orbs were embedded in its flesh. Dark tentacles waved out of where its mouth should be, between to long tusk-like formations. In the middle of its head was a cavernous mouth, filled with sharp teeth, but with no jaw. Atop this they could make out that same girl, standing on its head, guiding it towards the portal structure.
Standing atop the head of the beast, she moved her arms about, seeming to draw some unseen power to her. Then quite suddenly a searing white beam of chaotic energy leapt from one of her hands and struck the main construct ahead of her. Holding that wire of energy, another spiralling energy beam looped around that, growing and growing, until it slammed into the portal's edge. The machinery reacted to it, becoming confused at first, then starting to sever connections, but also build more into the ground.
But it was too late. The girl intensified her motions, extending the beam further. The bizarre metallic outline that embraced the swirling vortex cracked, and with a sudden burst, flew apart. Beneath it was a second vortex, intersecting the first. Slowly, they moved closer, until their forms touched and mingled. The machine snapped back violently and with a horrific pull, the first vortex was gone.
Lifting her hands, her vortex closed along with it. Only severed equipment and debris remained, along with the one very large monstrosity. But in the blink of an eye, it too was gone, along with the girl.
The hymenopteran guards were falling, despite the aid of the Pimi-Mele below. Direct contact with the dark creature of snow and mist was too powerful and the swarm was being swatted out of the sky. The Empress scowled at the sight of her guards being crushed in the thing's grip, black vapours pouring out of their mouths.
From behind them the guardian spoke softly, the energies ceasing from its small arms. "It is not enough, I am afraid."
Whirling about in utter wrath, the Empress bent over, pushing her gaze directly into the small Pimi-Mele ruler. "You have destroyed countless warriors! How dare you give up! How dare you fail!"
That thick black hat tilted down, seemingly in regret and sorrow. From nearby the sound of buzzing wings grew fainter, and the groan of the mist grew louder. Dull thuds of bodies striking the earth broke the rhythm of battle from time to time. Then the guardian lifted its face, its eyes shining mournfully. It looked up at the woman that had guided them out of the frozen wastes.
"We are ready," it said.
Taken aback, she shook her head, uncertain at the being's meaning. Then realised and took in a dreadful breath.
"No, no... you know what it is. You know!" she cried out.
"I am Nii, I am the Guardian of the Pimi-Mele, and for them I speak. We are ready." The short creature's tone had changed. An air of great authority moved from it, eclipsing even that of the great Empress. "Go now, Faemydi. We will all be free today, every one."
Squeezing her eyes shut, she dropped her head and spun around, her back to them all. She then took a light step forward and lowered her arms to her sides. Slowly, almost accidentally, she seemed to lift off the grass. With the lightest breeze she moved, sliding through the air towards the great darkness.
Rising up, higher and higher, she saw nothing. The Empress recalled her guards, those that remained alive. The Pimi-Mele in the forest below released their shielding beams of light and began to assemble below, clustering around Nii, the black hatted one.
As she came level with the thing's head she slowly opened her eyes. Tears streamed down her cheeks, her vision blurred. Under her breath she murmured a warning to the great beast that stole life's breath and the sun's heat.
"I have corrupted an innocent people, I have banished an entire race, I have slain the undeserving, I have borne the mark of undoing, I have severed the silver cord and not perished, for it holds me to life," said Faemydi darkly. Then lifting her face to gaze into the dark holes of mist, "You are the darkness that consumes worlds, joined with the malevolence of a fallen planet. You have ended so many lives, seen peoples rise and fall over history, even watched the mountains weather and smooth. But to me I call you young, children unknowing, and your undoing is now at hand."
Swiping her hands across the air, something tore across her. The air ripped, the mass of the dark creature shuddered horribly, and an evil shadow stood before it. Out of a void mouth, Faemydi bellowed.
"MROUGH VA TARESCHA!"