Continued from part 1…
She knew it wasn’t considered “polite”, but the little girl continued to stare up at the motionless being for what seemed like ages. Levitating several feet above the ground, the creature in turn stared silently at the one tree that grew near the cliff edge. They were about a mile from shore, along a tall ridge away from the fishing villages on the outskirts of Bakurados Bay. The ancient, twisted tree stood on the tallest outcropping, and the little girl would sometimes come there alone to play. A large, purple-armored man hovering in front of the tree was not something she was expecting. “Mister, what are you doing?” she asked innocently. After a moment, the being spoke. “This tree is the oldest living thing on your planet.” He turned to face the little girl before continuing, “For two of your days, I have been communicating with it on a low psionic level in order to determine where I am…and why I have been trapped in this realm.” The girl kicked around a rock on the ground, “oh…you’re new here.”
The massive warrior slowly descended to the ground before landing with an awkward thud. The girl rushed over to help steady him as he fell to one knee. Close up, she noticed all the chips, holes, and burn marks on his armor and bronze-colored skin. Mounted to his back was a curious black staff capped what appeared to be a sparkling glass sphere housed in a heavy, blade-like structure. The creature steadied himself before rising to his full height. He looked down at the girl and asked, “Are you a representative of this planet’s leadership?” The girl replied, “no…I’m Janisa. And you’re on planet Jalldoon.” The gleaming man said, “I am Quazarec.” He looked back at the tree before continuing, “Janisa, the tree tells me that your world is in great peril…and that the growing crisis revolves around the only intelligent race indigenous to this planet: Slimes.” The little girl looked down at the ground, as if deep in thought. She suddenly looked up at Quazarec, “I can take you to the crisis…but you have to come back home with me!”
Sensing no malice from the young human, Quazarec accepted the invitation, and the pair made their way slowly back to her village. Quazarec stumbled a couple times along the way. “How did you get here, kway-…kway–…” “Quazarec,” he corrected. “I was lured to this reality when I sensed a malevolence I had never felt before through a spacetime rift of origin…no science I’m aware of can explain.” The sunlight glinted off the gold nano-circuitry embedded in his skin as Quazarec continued to recall the events of the past few days. In the coldness of interstellar space, an inexplicable tear in reality beckoned him with terrible visions of hatred and subjugation. The billions of telepathic minds collected in his own consciousness knew that such a potentially destructive force could not go unchallenged, even if it meant the loss of their warrior-avatar. In the skies above the South Seas of Jalldoon, the opposite end of the portal burst open with a wild eruption of energy. Quazarec was flung through and crashed into the surface of the water with such force that the massive wave resulting from the impact nearly wrecked the freighter, The Pride of Gato, miles away. Nearly a day later, the android had recovered enough to walk back to shore along the bottom of the ocean. Emerging from the water, his cosmic senses could detect no trace of the portal. He was trapped. With this realization, the orb at the end of his staff sizzled with dancing flecks of light as Quazarec swore to find whoever dared do this.
As the pair entered the village, Quazarec noticed two curious things. One was the fascinating mixture of ancient tools and hyper-advanced technology. Local rifts in spacetime were clearly not uncommon on this world. But more troubling, there seemed to be very few adults in the village other than some elderly vagrants and homeless people. Upon arriving at her home, Janisa raced ahead and disappeared through the door. Quazarec followed, but then paused abruptly before the entrance. “Please, that won’t be necessary.” A moment later, a young adult woman sheepishly stepped into the entrance from the side, wielding a heavy tree branch. The little girl just laughed, “you don’t need to test him, sis! I found a real tough one for ya!” Embarrassed, the older sibling introduced herself as Anika and began her story. She mentioned a squabble involving local cartels in the Bay city leaving the fishing industry decimated and the village nearly destitute. But what made matters worse–much worse–was the rise of a violent cult that had begun kidnapping people and driving out the few families left in town. Many young people were left with nowhere to go and nothing but each other…so Anika had decided that the only way they could fight back and have a chance was to hire a strong fighter to help them destroy the cult. And the only way to be sure she was hiring the right person was to “test” their skills. With a club upside the head. At this, Quazarec looked down at the little girl. “THIS is the crisis that threatens your world??” Janisa just smiled back up at the space traveler. Just then, Quazarec suddenly looked up, as though hearing something in the distance. The orb atop his staff began to glow again.
Later that night, the older sister built a fire and gathered all the young people of the village who refused to leave. Quazarec listened to their stories. Stories of families broken up. Stories of poverty. Stories of being terrorized. Once all the children had had their say, Quazarec spoke. “I sense that your intent is just. And I believe our goals may, in fact, be related.” He went on to explain that he is an android, built by a highly advanced, telepathic race to be a vessel for their collective consciousness. His powers were techno-psionic in nature, but because of the dimensional barriers separating the realities, his connection to his people–and thus, his powers–were extremely limited. Some of the younger kids started fidgeting, confused by Quazarec’s exposition. Janisa stood up suddenly and addressed the gathering in the firelight. “Look, Quazarec is a star god…come to help us…but he’s weak right now. He needs time to heal. He needs us!” Anika rose alongside her sister, “It’s gotta be the Children of the Beetle! Quazarec can sense an evil presence on the move in Bakurados Bay. We’ve spent months organizing with the kids from the other villages. The time to act is now!” The rest of the night, Anika began organizing the older kids into teams to make contact with groups from other villages. The message was simple: begin preparations to take on the cult. Meanwhile, Quazarec watched the younger children making music and dancing around the fire. The space traveler smiled. “These beings are more evolved than I had realized.”
The golden nano-scale machines permeating the android’s body continued to repair his superstructure and armor throughout the next day. Quazarec knew the process that would take days on Jalldoon would have been completed in mere moments in his native reality. Still, the children singing songs of freedom, youthful bravado, and revolution as they fished for their meals generated an empathic resonance that accelerated his healing. Quazarec hadn’t felt this at peace in quite some time. He touched one of his green bracers and the glittering points of light embedded in his purple armor began to shine brighter and brighter until all of his high-tech cladding became bathed in light. An instant later, the armor vanished completely, leaving only his boots, bracers, sleeveless black bodysuit, and the ever-present orb staff levitating at his side.
Without his great, horned helmet, Quazarec’s head was exposed to the sun for the first time since being lured to Jalldoon. He had no hair and his featureless eyes were the same bronze color as his glossy synthetic skin. The android began telepathically probing Bakurados Bay for any sign of cult activity or evil in general. Nothing. Impossible. He soon realized that the Bay was heavily shrouded in powerful magic–a force against which Quazarec was weak. Suddenly, the cosmic traveler fell to his knees as a powerful psionic vision overtook him. He saw a terrifying warrior–a shape-shifter in humanoid form–wielding a broadsword with great precision. And great cruelty. A Slime…who at that very moment was traveling towards Bakurados Bay. “Why’s your ball glowing?” Quazarec was suddenly broken out of his vision by Janisa’s question. They both looked over at his staff, at the top of which, the sphere seethed with an awful light. “That is my Control Orb. Dark matter is used to contain a forced quantum singularity that…” It didn’t take a telepath to read the expression on the little girl’s face. “Very well,” Quazarec continued. “Because of our link, my people see what I see and I feel what they feel. While my people’s thoughts and determination empower me, their collective emotions–rage, grief, fear–can potentially overwhelm me and cause…malfunction. This device helps temper those emotions.” Their conversation was cut short by kids arriving with reports on the cultists’ activity.
As night fell, Anika and the other older kids assessed the potential strongholds of the cult they had identified. Quazarec was impressed with their committment as well as their progress, though he did warn them not to engage the cult directly. While the discussion of resistance strategies continued, Quazarec began practicing using his staff as a melee weapon–something he hasn’t had to do in centuries. He wasn’t yet fully healed, but he felt the evil force that had trapped him on this planet was drawing closer. As he practiced by the fire, an impulse of pure terror lanced through the mystical fog that was clouding Quazarec’s empathy. He knew an innocent life was in immediate danger…and the sensation came from a location very close to one of the cultist bases in the Bay.
In the near-abandoned fishing sector of Bakurados Bay, a fully-armored Quazarec swept through the streets, ignoring the few terrified homeless people and drunks here and there. His Control Orb began to glow with anticipation as the android prepared himself to deliver the ultimate sanction. The magic obscuring his senses was even more potent here in the Bay, but he knew he was close.
The four Children of the Beetle could not understand why the woman was resisting them. Did she not comprehend the great honor they were about to bestow upon her?? They had explained the glory of being selected as a sacrifice to the Great Scarab, but still she fought them. Perhaps she was too drunk to understand? One cultist tried in vain to cover her mouth as she began shouting–as much cries for help as blasphemous epithets about the cultists. There was no one to hear her though…not in this part of the city. As they approached their hideout, a sudden blast of energy tore through the front of building from within. Quazarec stepped through the burning wreckage, the plasma emitter in the middle of his chest still glowing hot from the discharge. The five humans stared dumbfounded for a moment as the moonlight glinting off his glittery armor and firelight picked out the gold shimmering just beneath his artificial skin. The moment did not last long. As the human female dropped to the ground, Quazarec silently went to task, whirling his staff in wide arcs as the cultists were systematically slaughtered. The glow very quickly left his Control Orb, and as he helped the disoriented woman to her feet, he muttered, “this is NOT the evil I seek…”
For the next couple days, Quazarec focused on training the kids to fight. They had already accumulated an impressive stash of stolen and makeshift weapons, and Anika and the leaders from other villages had begun planning indirect raids against cult strongholds. Quazarec was troubled by his first encounter with the cultists. He could tell they were tainted with ugly magics, but they were still only humans. Not a shape-shifter among them. There was perhaps the possibility that the object of their devotion was a Slime…but Quazarec didn’t get that impression from their chaotic emotions.
Janisa woke up on her sleeping mat to see Quazarec, as usual, staring out the window, “scanning for threats,” as he would say. As she got up in the dim early morning light, Quazarec revealed to her that he had been having visions of a Slime tyrant of unimaginable power and evil. His most recent vision told him that the being he sought was now actually in Bakurados Bay. Quazarec instructed her to get her sister and gather all the resistance leaders immediately. The little girl usually had a clever retort for his orders, but this time, she sensed Quazarec’s grim urgency and obeyed without question. After explaining the visions to Anika and the others, the kids seemed confused. Anika asked what a Slime had to do with a seemingly human cult. The android confessed he didn’t have an answer to her question, but made his next command crystal clear: they were to make contact as soon as possible with the kids from the other villages and instruct them NOT to pursue any leads whatsoever involving Slimes. The young warriors had to proceed carefully as the shape-shifter Quazarec sought represented a potentially cosmic-level threat. The gathering soon broke up and the kids went their separate ways to execute their mission. Oddly, Quazarec couldn’t find Janisa anywhere afterwards.
While the kids followed their instructions the next day and steered well clear of anything in Bakurados Bay involving Slimes, their raids against the cult became more daring. Their tactics had shifted from gathering intelligence to disrupting supply chains. Vendors, couriers, and other businesses that had been supplying the cult for months were now being robbed, vandalized, or otherwise put out of commission. Meanwhile, back in Janisa’s village, Quazarec continued to prepare for the final confrontation. He would take the fight directly to the cult and lay siege to what the kids had identified as their main stronghold: the former office of Bakurados’ Fish Master in the abandoned fishing district. With any luck, he would learn how the human cowards were connected to the Slime threat.
As night fell, a now-fully-recovered Quazarec was once again practicing with his bladed staff when Janisa finally returned. She told Quazarec that she knew where he could find a mighty Slime prince. All the kids from the city were apparently talking about some newcomer to the Pit–an unstoppable Slime warrior. Just as Quazarec was about to scold the little girl for ignoring his orders, yet another vision penetrated the mystical shroud hanging over the Bay. The same Slime tyrant from his previous visions appeared in some sort of arena, massacring local fighters as the onlookers chanted over and over. Quazarec now had a name for the beast. ALGOR!
Above the near-dawn, empty streets over Bakurados Bay’s fishing sector, a sphere of coruscating light flew overhead in geometrically-precise search patterns. Inside the levitation bubble, the android warrior’s Control Orb flared with the prospect of combat. Despite the mystical interference, the evil he detected was too strong to obscure completely. But Quazarec could vaguely sense that the enemy was on the move again–heading deeper into the abandoned neighborhoods. “Away from innocents…” Quazarec thought to himself. In the early light, his quarry finally came into sight. As Quazarec landed behind Algor, the energy sphere dissipated and he could immediately smell the death and gore on the shape-shifter. The Slime prince was not alone, however. He seemed to be dragging along a female human–apparently a common practice among the magic-wielding despots of this realm. Despite sensing no fear from the woman, Quazarec wasted no time and began powering up his chest emitter. The blast tore through the darkness and slammed into Algor’s back, sending him flying several meters. The woman screamed and ran off with no hesitation. The last thing she heard was the daemon’s voice growling something about “oblivion”.
As she sped back to town–away from the sounds of battle–the woman nearly collided with a curious bright orange metal can with arms and legs bounding along a side street in her direction. Before the odd sight even registered to her, she blurted out, “He’s killing the Slime!!” Toron’s mech suit began running even faster…
Instantly sobered-up from the excruciating pain, Algor stood up and pointed his sword at his attacker. “I don’t know who–or what–you are…but no worlds are burning tonight, buddy. Just you.” The two warriors charged at each other and as their weapons struck one another, a terrible burst of energy threw them both back a few paces. Bright plasma discharge coursed along Quazarec’s staff, while a mysterious black electricity rippled across Algor’s skin and along his sword. “Your words deny your nature and your intent, but it’s clear you threaten all life on Jalldoon.” Preoccupied with the strange, dark power emanating from his body, Algor hesitated. Seeing an opening, Quazarec charged and once again, the two titans traded blows.
At this point, Toron was frantic. He knew he should have stopped the woman to get some sense of where to find Algor. As he rushed through side streets and alleyways, he started hearing the din of battle in the distance, echoing among the derelict buildings. The old Slime headed in the direction of the chaos. Energy blasts, metal clashing against metal, and the roar of two distinct combatants told him that the Magi were not exaggerating about the peril the Prince faced. His grip on the cultist’s sword tightened as he ran.
With his staff floating nearby, Quazarec began quietly chanting in an alien language while moving his hands in an elaborate, flowing manner. The device on the center of his chest armor began to glow, and Algor braced for what he knew was coming. A torrent of plasma erupted from his attacker and engulfed the Slime. Algor knew he couldn’t endure another blast, and yet, he felt no fear. Holding his sword before him, black smoke suddenly began billowing from every inch of his skin. Horrified, the prince nonetheless held his ground as the enchanted smoke seemed to render the alien’s destructive energy harmless. Quazarec seemed drained by the discharge, but was even more shocked that the mortal had survived. “All talk,” Algor muttered to himself as the bloodlust reasserted itself. The prince counterattacked with the unfettered instinct of a predator. Quazarec, comparatively slower, could do little to defend against the Slime’s precise strokes and thrusts. Each movement of Algor’s sword reminded the android of flowing water…of poetry. Quazarec knew what was at stake should he lose this duel, but that tireless determination couldn’t change the fact that he was losing ground.
As Algor pressed his attack, he suddenly became aware that he was grinning. He felt as though he was losing control of his own body and he could only watch as this terrible instinct took over. Fear crept into his mind as more of the sorcerous black electricity pulsed through his body. Despite being physically exhausted, his movements seemed to accelerate, and Algor felt his mind–his very self–giving in to the joy of violence. Here, on the edge of death, he reveled in the combat and with unnatural speed, the prince deftly created an opening in Quazarec’s guard and plunged his sword deep into the beam emitter on the android’s chest armor, destroying the weapon completely.
But Algor was not alone in noticing the awful metamorphosis taking place. Quazarec knew his plasma beam and ancient melee combat arts wouldn’t be enough to stop with this devil. Only by unleashing the power of his Control Orb could he hope to save untold lives…even if it meant succumbing to the telepathic torrent of emotion from his creators. Resolved in his decision, chaotic bolts of greenish-white energy began pouring from the sphere, finally bringing the shape-shifter to his knees. The noxious fumes once again issued from Algor’s skin, but this time, the gusts of smoke were completely overwhelmed by the freed psionic potential. For a moment, Quazarec thought he saw the shape of a garish black skull forming in the mystical miasma over Algor’s head, crying out in agony.
Or was it laughing?
Toron knew he was close. Putting all doubt out of his mind, he prepared himself to do whatever it took to protect his long-time friend. The veteran Slime rounded a corner, then skidded to an abrupt halt. Still holding the bloody cultist sword, he suddenly now faced a gathering of human children. Completely stunned, Toron was speechless. At the head of the group stood a single little girl with her hands on her hips, wearing a stern expression. “Well…this is unexpected…” was all Toron could manage to utter.
Despite being nearly dead, with many ugly, charred gashes along his slimy body, Algor’s body would simply not fall. It in fact lunged forward with unearthly speed. In one blinding stroke, the prince’s sword rocketed upward, taking Quazarec’s hand–and staff–with it before turning around in a high arc and slamming into the opposite side of Quazarec’s head. The staff, hand, and now-dark Control Orb, skittered across the ground…and one of his horns had completely shattered as the android’s helmet was smashed off his head. Algor, barely conscious of his own actions at this point, walked over to Quazarec’s prone form and raised his sword one final time.
Without warning, Quazarec’s intact hand shot out with blinding ferocity and grabbed Algor by the throat. The savagery of the attack took Algor–and that which possessed him–completely off guard. The prince immediately dropped his sword as the shock briefly cleared the evil presence from his consciousness. As Quazarec rose to his full height, he lifted Algor into the air by his neck. His normally featureless eyes were suddenly aflame with ghastly power, and when he spoke, the sound of a billion disembodied voices issued from his mouth. “Miserable wretch. You dare imprison me in this dimension? I will enjoy squeezing the life out of you…”
Algor, choking and sputtering, could barely put up a struggle against the monstrous grip around his throat. His Orb no longer capable of abating the collective rage of his homeworld, Quazarec was beyond reason. As his hold tightened, he suddenly paused. The strangulated gasps from the shape-shifter had changed. Laughter. Quazarec sneered with the impossibility of what he was hearing. The myriad voices spat in unison, “even now, at the precipice of death, you laugh? You have LOST!” Algor’s asphyxiated laughter continued, “I…don’t need…to beat you, pal!”
In an instant, Quazarec’s glowing eyes grew wide as he realized the enormity of his folly. He turned his head just in time to glimpse the diminutive orange construct swinging a heavy, wooden log directly towards his head…
The darkness was interrupted by maddeningly complex bios matrices scrolling across his vision as Quazarec regained consciousness. Laying on his back, he looked up to see the old tree from the cliffs near Janisa’s village. As he sat up, unarmored, he saw Janisa, the strange orange mechanical being, and what appeared to be the Slime Prince’s head resting near the tree, gazing off towards the sea. His staff, which had recouperated enough charge to temper his telepathic link once more, lay on the grass next to him. Janisa immediately ran over and threw her arms around the android. Surprised, all Quazarec could do was return the embrace. “You have a lot to thank this one for,” said the orange creature, motioning towards the human girl. Quazarec’s reply was simple and devoid of irony. “I know.”
As Toron, Janisa, and Quazarec reconciled the events of the previous days, Algor continued to brood silently by the cliff edge, still not recovered enough to assume his heroic form. The sullen prince was deeply troubled by the revelation that he was somehow “infected” by forces beyond his control. Where did his own thoughts and feelings end, and where did this evil possession begin? And how long would it be until he lost control again? The Prince swore to himself that he would do whatever it took to get answers…
“Look, we need heroes like you for the storm that’s coming to Jalldoon,” Toron said to Quazarec after a time. Examining his regenerating hand, Quazarec replied, “I am no hero.” The skeletal techno-organic hand flexed into a fist. “I am no more than a reflection of the power that surrounds me.” The cosmic traveler looked down at Janisa as she smiled back up at him. Toron nodded. “Well, the Children of the Beetle have been mostly wiped out along with their leadership, so I think Bakurados Bay can rest easy for the time being. Will you return with us to Hawkstorm Keep?” the old slime asked. Quazarec reached down to take Janisa’s hand. “The sorcery interfering with my telepathy has also disappeared without a trace, but no, Sir Toron. I need to go back and say goodbye to some people first,” Quazarec replied as the pair began walking towards the village. Sparkles of light appeared around the android’s body like an aura as his armor rematerialized. He paused, turning back to the Slimes, “But you WILL see me again. We have a common foe. And my wrath is not yet satisfied.” With this, Quazarec’s Control Orb once again crackled with power as the adventurers parted ways. For the moment.
Story by Jesse Chagnon and Sanjeev Selvaraj