A chill wind wrapped around Blake as he stepped off of the boat. This town was small, more of a village than anything, but it was better than spending the night in the forest again.
Wandering from town to town, Blake had no trouble navigating among the locals. He had come across several other simbionts in his travels, but he hadn't engaged any of them. This was a mission of stealth, of watching and waiting. Unfortunately, none of them seemed that different from the people they lived among. Clava had lived her life in much the same way.
He carried as little as possible. The strange silver pyramid and his letter were the only things in his pocket. When he set out to find his friends he knew it might take a long time. It might even take forever. The resources of the Grau were practically endless, whereas Blake's were very limited.
Before he left home he had collected all of the money he could, but that had run out long ago. There had been a disturbing period of months where he and Khamon had lived in the wild. During this time, Blake feared he was going to become more animal than man, but the constant discussions with Khamon provided sanity and focus.
He rarely spoke to anyone and when he did it was either for directions or questioning. If he wished he knew that he could pluck the information from their minds, but he refused to stoop to the level of his enemies.
He was being hunted and at the same time was a hunter--always wary, always watching. When he slept part of him was always awake.
There were times traveling the dusty roads between cities and settlements that Blake thought of Noble. The other Prid was surely long gone by now, tucked away in some remote corner of the world with his brood of orphans.
Blake practiced the kobal everyday, but he had yet to manifest more than a faint, transient gauntlet. Not very useful in battle. But Edam had told him how difficult it was to master and that the true source of the armor was inner silence, inner peace. Blake had neither.
Blake made his way to the common inn. It was a small building that doubled as a market in the morning. Blake caught a glimpse at his reflection in the window as he climbed the steps to the door.
There were only a handful of people inside. As Blake stepped inside the conversation slowed to a trickle.
::People here seem much more distrustful of strangers.:: Khamon said.
After nearly seven months of wandering Khamon had picked something up—a beacon of some kind. The feeling was small at first, just a tickle in the back of Blake's head. But as they headed West, it got stronger, an unseen force tugging on his bones, guiding him. Khamon had been unable to do anything to ease the sensations.
::The source is too powerful and too far away. Until we get closer there is nothing I can do.::
Just so, Blake and Khamon trudged through snow and ice. Khamon had been able to roughly pinpoint the signal, and with that information they traveled as fast as they could to British Colombia- towards the mountains.
Blake walked to the bar, turning his back on the other people inside.
`I need a drink. Something strong,' Blake said, leaving a ten dollar bill on the counter. The barkeeper grunted and poured from a few different bottles before setting the glass on the table. Behind them the patrons started talking again. It was quieter, and Blake knew that several of them were discussing him.
Blake guessed that it would be unusual to see a man traveling alone in these parts, without a truck or snowmobile, especially the way the weather had turned. It seemed the farther Blake traveled on the beam the worse the weather got.
Blake downed his drink. Khamon watched as the spirits blazed a burning path down Blake's throat and into his stomach.
::It is poison.::
::But why would you poison yourself? Poison us?:: Khamon asked as he quickly metabolized the alcohol into water. Blake scowled. He had been relying on the whiskey for a little bit of courage, maybe some clarity. Not a big drinker, Blake had never had to discuss the small nuance with Khamon before. Though his actions were consistent with his attitude--Khamon would never allow him to get drunk. Alcohol was poison.
But I suppose it's true. Blake heard a rogue thought echo in his head. Sometimes he couldn't tell the difference between his inner voice and that of Khamon.
::The weather is getting worse.:: Khamon supplied a mental image of the storm outside. Hail and snow and gale winds. It was as if the beam was calling him, pulling him, but at the same time refusing him access.
Can we make it through that?
::With our current resources, possibly. But it would be advisable to conserve our strength—this entire thing could be a trap set out by the koda.::
Blake grunted. Khamon was right. They had come across several small setups in the search for their friends, but thanks to Khamon's observant (and paranoid) nature, they had been able to avoid the traps.
The search for Rob, Jared and Clava had been much more dangerous than Blake could have guessed and he couldn't help it when his mind turned to Clava. The thought that she had betrayed them to either koda had crossed his mind several times. But in the end it seemed unlikely. Clava was happy where she was, and didn't seem to want any part of the koda's schemes.
Blake felt his hand clench in anger. Khamon had been manifesting his control over their shared body much more lately, usually out of agitation or anger. He felt the simbiont withdraw as he felt Blake's thoughts. Blake wiggled his own fingers.
`I need boots. And winter clothes.' Blake said to the barkeeper. He shoved his last forty dollars on the table. The man nodded and gave a Blake a strange look. He disappeared around the back for a split second before returning with an old parka, some bulky snow pants and boots, all of which were quietly set beside Blake before the money was shoved in a greasy pocket.
Blake took off his own thin jacket and pulled on the heavier clothes. They had seen better days but anything was better than what he had been wearing.
The talking died off as son as Blake opened the door outside. He pulled up his hood and stepped into three feet of snow.
Something tells me this is going to be a long trek.
As Blake hauled himself up the side of the mountain, sleet and ice tore at his clothes, ripping them to shreds. It was clear by then that the blizzard was anything but ordinary. It had to be caused by something else. Another Prid, or their technology.
Blake clenched his teeth as they climbed. Khamon was working as efficiently as possible, compiling and conserving raw material, should they need to expend it in battle. The closer they got to the source of the beam, the more Blake thought this was likely.
The pull was stronger now. Blake thought that if he were to stop at any time it would drag him up the mountain on its own. His teeth ached and it felt like his bones were going to tear out of his body. Khamon tried to step in once, and Blake felt the mental equivalent of a shock. It was as if Khamon shoved a fork in a toaster.
His head reeling, Blake moved on. The pulling had become painful. Now, he moved on his own as Khamon had fallen back in a stupor. Blake could do nothing but move toward the source of the beam. He was so close. It was almost tangible--a pulse in the air issuing from the inside of the mountain.
The pain was intense and his strength low, but he knew he couldn't delay. The pain might kill him if he stopped. So crawling, Blake made his way up the mountain, until his hands grasped a flat surface. It felt different than the rough rock beneath his feet. Smooth and polished.
Blake slowly hauled himself up and out of the blizzard and onto the platform. Immediately the beam dispersed and Blake exhaled in relief as his mind was freed. Khamon awoke immediately and erected defenses.
Blake struggled to his knees and pushed the hood back from his face. They were in a small carved out valley on the side of the mountain. Rough walls, actually part of the mountain itself, blocked the rest of the world from view. The ground was tiled and made of some stone that Khamon couldn't readily identify. But most importantly, the blizzard raged on fiercely above and around them, but never entered into the valley. It was as if it was moving around the valley itself.
Let's have a look around.
Aren't I always?
::No. You are not.::
Blake rolled his eyes before looking around. There was something in the side of the mountain at the end of the valley. As they walked toward it, Blake got the impression that it was more of a giant hallway than a valley.
What is it? Blake looked over the smooth rock. There was a circular indentation the size of his head. It was only a centimeter deep but mounted inside was a shimmering stone that reminded Blake of the platform he saw in Peor's court so long ago.
::It seems to be an activation panel of some kind.:: Khamon said as he analyzed it.
Without thinking, Blake pressed his bare hand to it. Before Khamon could even think of chiding him, both of them fell to their knees as a massive force swept through them. Their barriers were intact but the scan passed through them as if they were nothing.
What the... Blake felt the sweep go through his body and mind at the same time. Then, without warning, it disappeared.
::That was incredibly stupid.:: Khamon said.
Your feathers are just ruffled because the sweep got past your barriers. Blake said.
::Of course I am upset. Half of our survival depends on my defenses. If anyone can penetrate them...::
Alright, alright. We'll talk about this later. For now we should get ready in case there's a fight.
::Look.:: Khamon said. Blake hadn't been paying attention. He still had trouble dividing his attention.
In front of them, a large part of the wall depressed and slid back. The ground shook for a moment then everything was still.
::It's probably a trap.::
Are you suggesting we go back now?
::No, I'm merely pointing out the probability of an ambush.::
`Blake.' The voice called from the darkness inside. It was familiar. Khamon swept the area quickly.
`Blake.' It called again, louder.
`Clava?' Blake asked, stepping into the mountain.
It was dark and the only light from outside disappeared as the door slid shut behind them. Silence stretched out for several long seconds before Blake took a step. The sound echoed through the room. A low hum rose from the heart of the mountain and as it built, a pale light seeped into the area. Without warning, bright white light lit everything in the room.
It was as if someone had carved out the inside of a mountain. The walls were rock and crystal. Strange stones were everywhere, shimmering in white light. A ledge ran along the walls to strange looking archways that Blake assumed were doors of some kind. The center of the mountain dropped off into a pit below. The water was inky black and covered in a thick layer of ice. Blake could feel something moving down there, alive but not quite alive. A bridge of crystal extended out into the very center.
Blake slowly made his way along the bridge. It stopped at a small platform. An alter like the one in Peor's mansion sat there, encased in crystal. Blake looked around. The far wall which was otherwise inaccessible was a huge sheet of crystal. The ceiling was full of stalagmites carved with a swirling pattern that reminded Blake of narwhale horns.
`Blake.' This time he was sure it was Clava. The air shimmered and a beautiful young girl stood before him, above the black ice.
`Blake, if you are seeing this then the worst of my fears has been realized.' The young girl said. Blake was surprised because he was so used to seeing Clava in a male body, but she had said something about changing them occasionally.
The hologram shimmered as the little girl looked over them.
`This facility was designed to draw you to it should anything happen to me. If you're standing here that can only mean one thing—I am dead.' The hologram said. Blake felt his heart lurch. He had never trusted Clava like he had Rob or Jared, and now he never would get the chance.
`I have known you for what you are since the first time I saw you. I apologize for the deception, Atavist.' The hologram faded and reappeared beside Blake.
`This hologram contains a copy of my knowledge and personality. It is the core program which runs this fortress. It is a bastion against those who would harm you. I assume you have Rob and Jared with you. It is also possible that they were abducted by one of the koda or a rebel faction. If so, then you must use the resources of this facility to find them.'
Is there any way to make her...interactive? Blake asked.
::It may be possible.:: Khamon linked with the program running the fortress. Blake could feel him doing something, but he had no idea what.
The holo Clava shimmered and flickered. Blake heard something else kick in deep below the black lake. Holo-Clava ceased flickering and became more solid. A little girl of seven stood before Blake, dressed in old Victorian clothes, her long blonde curls falling down her shoulders. Blue eyes blinked at him.
`Blake. My personality has been integrated into this semi-permanent holographic form. Is this your doing?'
`More like Khamon's.'
Clava nodded. `I see. The Atavist is ever resourceful.' She stood with a blank expression. Blake looked around.
`What is this place?'
`It is part of the ship that crashed here so long ago.' Clava said. Finally, a straight answer.
`Clava, what am I?' Blake asked. Khamon was listening intently.
`You are an Atavist.' She said.
`That doesn't help.' Blake said.
`Maybe I should give you some background.' Clava said. It was odd to hear her voice coming from this littler girl. Khamon had informed him of the gaps in the personality recording which accounted for the holograms alternation between deadpan voice and Clava-inspired phrases.
`Our home world is many millions of light years away. Our race has evolved to the point where time is not of a great issue to us. We can adapt to and exceed the speed of light, which is a very primitive notion, but a necessary step to space travel.
`We are ruled by the descendants of the Founders. Our sacred kings and queens, the royal family. The Vard, of which there are four at a time and only four. However, there was born a fifth.'
`Khamon.' Blake said.
`Yes. Khamon. That name is now forbidden by royal decree on Zemelon. Khamon, who was greater than all of the Four. Khamon who was to unite our worlds and to usher in a new era of prosperity and understanding. To revive the old ways and fuse them with the new age.' Clava said.
`That obviously never happened.' Blake said.
`No. Khamon was born an Atavist.' Clava said.
`That's what every one keeps saying. Noble said that being an Atavist is a curse.' Blake said. Clava nodded.
`Our race is varied and rich. We have descended from the Founders, each of us all. But there are born some that are akin to the legendary race. These are the Atavists. Out of the honor of our ancestors they are not killed, for they are born into this world pure and without stain. But their potential is vast and dangerous and so we exile them on distant planets.'
`But why?' Blake asked, `Why are they so dangerous? Why exile?'
`There was a time,' Clava said, `when the Atavists lived among us. They seemed less then, bound to one host. But it was that weakness that became their greatest strength and our worst fear. The eventual merging of the host and simbiont is inevitable. A third, new being is created. And most often they were corrupt or mad. In the dark times of Zemelon, war raged on all of our worlds. Suffering and death were common. We nearly wiped ourselves out. All because of an Atavist. That is why they are exiled and sent away with loyal guardians who will assure imprisonment.'
Clava looked to the sheet of crystal. Images appeared above the black lake. Space and stars as well as several planets. Giant ships of stone and crystal humming softly in the darkness.
`You can imagine the uproar. One of the Royal Four's children, an Atavist. Not only that, but the breeding program the Vard had installed meant that this child was far superior to any other that had come before it. A scion. The pinnacle of our race. Not to mention the uproar caused by another born of royal blood. Tradition holds to four Vard, and only four. The balance of power was greatly upset.
`The Vard sent you as far away as possible, to a hidden star, where you would sleep out the rest of your life until this universe fell in upon itself. Which would have been the case, had Grau Peor not extracted your location from the Jar Havaedus. He killed hundreds of mentatons, my brothers and sisters. From their dying breaths he stole the secret of your prison and set out to find you.'
`But why? It doesn't make any sense.' Blake said.
`Peor fears that the Vard will use you as a weapon against him. He has been campaigning against them for nine thousand terran years now. If he destroys you then he will feel safe enough to attack the Vard directly.'
`So it was Peor that woke Khamon?' Blake asked
`Possibly. It is hard to say. The presence of thousands of Prid could have easily pulled him out of hibernation. Atavists are strange creatures. Their lives are very much unknown to us.'
`And the other koda?' Blake asked.
`Grau Baurom. He also seeks you, but for what I cannot say. It could be that he seeks to use you as Peor fears the Vard will, or maybe he also wishes your destruction.' Clava said.
Blake felt as if he was floating on air. All the answers he had wanted and yet it seemed such a little thing, so fragile. And at the same time dangerous, to him as well as those he loved.
`Clava, how do I find Jared and Rob?'
`The koda took them then?' She asked.
`I don't know. I don't even know how you died.' Blake said his voice a whisper.
`It doesn't matter. I was prepared to die. After the annihilation of my family I sought out death. That is why I joined Peor's koda. But when I learned of what he sought, I thought that I might be able to reach you first. This fortress is secret and hidden even from the koda. You are safe here.'
`So you were part of a koda.' Blake said. Holo-Clava shook her head.
`I was never on a side. I only went with Peor because Baurom was suspicious of my motives. Peor was the easier one to fool.' She said. For several seconds the humming below the lake echoed in the fortress as Blake thought.
`I need to find Jared. And Rob.' Blake said. His guilt doubled every day since that night. He had failed them, even after promising to protect them. But it hadn't been his fault. He visited Noble to learn how to better protect his friends, but where had it gotten him?
::We've come this far. There is no time to sulk.:: Khamon said.
`Clava, can you help me find them?'
`Yes.' She said. There was something in her voice that made Blake frown.
`What is it?' He asked.
`Blake, I am no longer alive and I would never impose upon you if I was, but there is one thing that I must ask of you...'
`What?' Blake asked, curious.
The alter on the center of the platform shifted and moved, revealing a secret cache.
`I hid him there so he would be safe until you came.' She said.
Blake walked over. A black orb rose out of the hidden compartment slowly. It was slick and shone with an unnatural light.
`What is it?' He asked and as it settle into his hands he felt the life twisting around inside. He looked to Clava, wide-eyed.
`Help my son to live.' She said and the ground shook as an engine kicked out below them. Clava faded slowly.
What was that?
::It would seem that her program was created to cease function when the youngling was revealed. Entrusted into your care she has gone to rest finally.::
But...her program? She's still...saved somewhere, right?
::I can find no traces of her actual program in the system, but it would seem a basic protocol modeled off of her personality is being used to operate the fortress.::
Blake looked down at the orb in his hands. It was so small, the size of a plum. He could feel the life inside of it, pulsing, waiting, and so full of potential.
What do we do?
::I...don't know, Blake.::
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