Numenera: Shadows of the Past
‘Do you know what this is?’
The High Father held up a metallic sphere. Cold blue light radiated from the craquelure cracks in its smooth surface, giving the Amber Pope’s dark chambers a ghostly gleam.
’It’s a numenera artefact,’ said Alcyr.
‘And what is its purpose?’
Alcyr studied the device. His pale synth eyes showed him all the visual properties. In a glance he knew everything from its diameter to the shell material. Distractions, is what the Seekers called such minute details.
Search for the Truth, he reminded himself. The energy is the essence; it will guide you to the answer. ’It’s a key.’
‘And what does it unlock?’ His face was tranquil, yet the focus in his cobalt eyes burnt deep into Alcyr’s mind.
He scratched the back of his neck, silent. He wanted to say he didn’t know, but those of the Order knew only the language of Truth.
‘Very well.’ The High Father didn’t need artificial eyes to see he wasn’t ready. ’Let’s end this for today. You may return to your quarters.’
Alcyr entered his room, latched the door behind him and took a breath. Glowglobes held in sconces illuminated the corner walls with pale light, keeping the dark at bay in the absence of windows.
But enclosed walls couldn’t keep the thoughts out.
They clawed at the edges of his consciousness, making it difficult to keep the shadows away. Forgetting restraint, he touched the back of his neck and felt the cold metal segments of his spine.
The Sanctum of the High Curia felt like a tomb.
It was grand chamber made of ancient stone decorated by glyphs and images belonging to a civilisation long forgotten by the world. Durranet sensed the eyes of the dead on him as he sat within the unbearing hall.
The three curule priests Ansurius, Leticia, and Ctesiphon sat in their high seats around the council table. A raised circular slab shaped as the symbolic Eye of Truth. Durranet sat straight in his amber chair, listening to their wisdom, such as it was.
Ansurius, the oldest of the Curia, spoke first. ‘The boy is dangerous. He has fled the Truth and fallen into darkness. Should he continue this course, he will become a detriment to our cause.’
‘Those who fear the unknown are not suited for the Order, I agree,’ added Ctesiphon.
‘Perhaps he doesn’t fear the unknown, but himself,’ said Leticia, violet eyes shining with insight. ‘He fears his lack of humanity.’
’He’s beyond humanity,’ said Durranet, leaning forward. ’He’s the harbinger of a new aeon.’
‘My concern High Father,’ said Ctesiphon, ‘is all that will be lost with the old one.’
Durranet’s mouth tightened. ’That’s a concern we’re all burdened with, Your Eminence. Should Alcyr fall to darkness, we will purge him with light.’
The priests nodded in unison, understanding the finality in his tone. ‘Wisdom be to you, High Father.’
Don’t think — look.
The brute’s fist struck Alcyr, knocking him to the smooth marble floor. He stood back up, blood dripping from his nose.
Don’t fret — anticipate.
Large arms took hold of him; a knee drove into his stomach, then again. Air escaped him, taking his strength.
Don’t doubt — know. Know their weakness…and your strengths.
Alcyr turned his mind, converting consciousness to raw power. An invisible shockwave exploded out from his hand with a clap of thunder. He felt the enemy’s hold relax. Stunned, the brute stood dazed as he punched his groin. He groaned. Alcyr struck his throat, downing him.
He stood bleeding and triumphant over Zionx Taog, ascendant zealot of the Aeon Guardians.
‘Congratulations Taog,’ said Prime Stritton, ‘you lost to a fourteen year old.’ He was the only person fully armoured in the martial hall. He wore the breastplate and armour of a guardian, minus his Cyclops helm which he never wore within Durkhal. He stood a few feet behind Alcyr, waiting for Zionx to stop coughing. ‘Get up, ascendant.’
Zionx climbed to his feet, dark eyes staring at the boy who bruised his pride deeper than his throat. Alcyr knew his mind, felt Zionx’s hands around his neck as if they were truly suffocating him.
‘You want to kill me,’ said Alcyr.
Zionx shot forward like an arrow from a taut bow, grabbing for Alcyr’s neck.
His hands touched smoke, the boy nowhere to be seen.
‘You can’t reach me.’ Alcyr’s voice echoed.
Zionx looked left, right, behind him. Nothing. Prime Stritton was gone, too.
‘What is this?’ said Zionx. The walls around him cracked, leaking shadows and dark whispers. Warmth escaped the room, a sharp cold burning his lungs with each breath.
‘This,’ said Alcyr , ‘is the beginning.’
Zionx’s screams reverberated through the martial hall, his body jerking on the marble floor with a black haze clouding his eyes. Prime Stritton hunched down to examine him.
‘You know I’ll have to report this to the High Father,’ said Stritton.
’That’s fine,’ said Alcyr. ’I’m ready for another talk.’
Two of the Amber Guard stood either side of Alcyr, their intricate bronze plate glistening in the light of a great glowglobe hovering above the Regia’s rotunda chamber. Aside from the Sanctum, the Regia was the most sacred structure inside Durkhal. Only here did the High Curia give audience to members of the Order. As such, it was no coincidence the Amber Guard were here. One was worth ten of Zionx Taog, and should he attempt escape they would kill him.
Alcyr stood at the foot of the Grand Dais, a two-tier platform. On the lower tier were three silver thrones occupied by the curules, dressed in their regalia. Sat above them was Durranet VI, wearing a plain robe of adamant silk the colour of blue ink.
‘Attacking the mind of an Aeon Guardian is a woeful transgression against the Order,’ said Curule Ctesiphon. The man’s big ears, small nose and short black hair reminded Alcyr of a mouse.
‘It was in the defence of my life,’ said Alcyr, trying to ignore the glowglobe’s beaming light. ‘He was set on killing me. Isn’t that also a transgression, Your Eminence?’
‘Silence,’ said Curule Ansurius. He placed his spotted hands on the dais. ‘Your impudence puts you in contempt of this council.’
‘With all due respect, Prime Stritton already gave you his report. I believe it to be accurate.’
‘We wish to know the Truth from you,’ said Curule Leticia. Her dark skin and purple eyes radiated in the white light, giving her the appearance of a visitant cloaked in starlight.
‘No.’ Alcyr looked to each of them, his white eyes resting on the Amber Pope. ‘You brought me here to test me: to see if I will cower from the shadows or embrace them. There’s a Truth hidden in the dark that I need to see. I’m done running.’
Durranet rose from his amber throne, the key materialising in his hand. A blue aura roared over the dais and a beam of sapphire energy shot into Alcyr. The Regia shimmered, shattering into particles.
The particles flowed into streams of data. Doors unlocked and Alcyr stepped into the vaults of his mind. Images flickered. Blurred faces sharpened. Inaudible sounds became words.
He saw a small boy with bright green eyes looking at his shadow on a road in front of a small grey house. The shadow wavered like a flame. A woman and man with hollow eyes took shins from a robed figure — an Aeon Priest. The priest took the boy, screaming. In a windowless hall he sat with his head cradled in his knees, hundreds of other boys and girls standing around him. One by one they faded until only he remained. In the darkness three eyes stared at him, the smell of copper entering his nose. A voice in the dark told him this was only the beginning. He was blind. He yelled, screamed, begged. Mercy, he cried, mercy.
Under scolding water he stood naked, swollen and scarred. His spine afire. He touched the back of his neck, thinking he was dead.
‘Alcyr,’ said Leticia, ‘are you with us?’
He blinked. The chamber of the Regia surrounded him. ‘What was it?’
The priests paused.
‘A Zhev automaton,’ answered Durranet. ‘We fused its mechanical components with your organic tissue. You were the only one proven to be compatible. The results were staggering.’
‘Then the shadows…’
‘…are yours.’ Durranet sat back into his throne. ‘You possessed powers before the fusion. All we did was unlock them. There’s still much we don’t know.’
Alcyr felt a spasm up his spine. ‘So what do you want of me?’
‘There are those in the Order who would use the shadows to hide from our light,’ answered Ctesiphon. ‘They can’t, however, hide from you.’
‘We need your help to find them,’ said Leticia.
Ansurius frowned and kept silent.
‘I only have one other question,’ said Alcyr.
‘You have the council’s attention,’ offered Ctesiphon.
‘Where are my parents?’
Blood dripped through the floorboards of a small living room. A cloaked figure hunched over the body of a dead mother, her eyes still wet with tears. With a quick shrug he removed his crystal sword from her chest, blood covering the smoky blade. He sighed through his mask, taking a moment to tame the shadows lingering through his fingers.
The gem on his ring blinked crimson. He tapped the receiver.
A static voice spoke through the transmitter. ’There’s a new mission for you, Inquisitor. We’re sending you to Charmonde to investigate a renegade Seeker named Tranavaros Syr. The details have been sent to you by messenger. The High Father trusts you to handle this swiftly. Wisdom guide you.’
Look where it’s guided me so far,he thought.