The Pinnacle of Power

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The Omen

The large cloak or shroud covering the blurry silhouette stirred softly around the entity, as if aroused by an invisible gust, though there was no such thing as wind inside the Intangible World.

Gazing upon the cadaverous shape through the human eye was all but impossible. Thus Kyros was forced to focus the entire attention of his Mind’s Eye on the chilling mask that remained concealed behind a great cowl, if only to take a good look at it.

It was a sort of yellowish skull, covered by a thin layer of putrid, gelatinous flesh. That was what the mask looked like indeed, a sort of skull that shimmered with a splendor all its own, terrible and imposing at once. It kept changing constantly too, that mask, turning into something akin to the featureless face of a mannequin before reverting back to the same ghastly skull in a blink.

Whatever the case, that mask was certainly not the face of a living, breathing human being. Kyros had asked himself the same question countless times before, always reaching the same, inevitable conclusion. Best not to know how . . . the entity has managed to live for so long . . . if he was ever alive in the Tangible World to begin with.

The Great Master of the Selected slithered through the air like a giant snake. The sockets where his eyes should be, two endless pits black as night, fell heavily on each and every one of his followers, taking them in slowly, one by one.

The . . . entity that ruled Akaladia with an iron fist from behind the shadows spread his arms like a couple of large, ominous wings above the heart of the chamber. And the Adi’vardikhar’s dramatic gesture preceded another tremor.

The ground shrieked in protest, shaking as if it were about to give in completely at any given time. It finally caved in with a deafening roar in the heart of the Chamber as a rocky protuberance—identical to the rest of the Hall in shape and color—rose from the depths like a volcano at birth.

The stone grew larger and larger till it reached a height of two meters. The ground and the walls kept rattling violently as the protuberance went round and round, faster and faster, until it turned into an obelisk finished with a sharp triangular apex. This marked only the second time Kyros had laid eyes on the monolith, but any Selected would have recognized it in their dreams.

The Nivid’zakuna, the Inforacle!

By the time the ancient repository of the Pinnacle of Power took on its full shape and size, the room was different. Not at first glance perhaps, for the place was still walled by thick, coarse, leaden rock, illuminated by the same tiny indigo lights. But the Hall had changed in size and shape.

Father’s teachings came back to Kyros’ mind. “Although still part of the Asthana’dikhar, in the Tangible World of Sparzanna the Chamber of the Inforacle stands far away from the Hall’s Audience Chamber.

“But as you know, son, distances in the Intangible World are as illusory as natural elements and disasters. And so the Nivid’zakuna remains forever concealed under the deep lushness of the largest jungle in the world.”

If the old man’s words were to be believed, the Consciences of the Selected had traveled thousands of kilometers, from Palaxis to the Hintala Jungle, in half a heartbeat.

Furthermore, the Audience Chamber of the Hall of the Selected rose on the same exact spot where the residence and office of the UniCon’s President stood at the other side of the veil, far away from the Nivid’zakuna’s resting place.

Be that as it may, the Chamber of the Inforacle was completely out of reach in Tangible and Intangible Worlds alike, lest the Great Master himself grant access to the place. The differences between the two caves were so subtle, however, that in Kyros’ mind his new destination was just as cold, as ominous and surreal, as any other part of the Asthana’dikhar that he’d visited so far.

It wouldn’t do for him to share his thoughts, of course. Though truth be told, no one seemed interested in sharing their opinion. All of the gathered gazed upon the Inforacle with such unbridled fascination that it was as if the two-meter monolith standing in the middle of the room had put an unbreakable spell on them all.

The long, smoky robes around the arms of the First went round in slow, small motions above the Inforacle, the obelisk moving at the pace set by its master’s pale, bony hands.

Following the Adi’vardikhar’s command the Nivid’zakuna swirled again, spewing tiny dots of light as it went. The lights multiplied rapidly, flying in every direction as the obelisk spun vertiginously. The amazing spectacle of bluish, purplish, violet sparks devoured it all, as the monolith became a furious whirlwind of light and sound.

The flashes grew something fierce and a blinding shower of light bathed the entire Chamber of the sudden. Inforacle and dots of light became one and their symbiotic union produced a new blast that rattled the room much more violently than before.

Kyros was stunned, though he was far from being the only one unable to move a muscle. All of his peers looked like statues, he saw from the corner of his eye, all of them unable to move for a millimeter too.

That was when he realized they were all floating within a vision that looked and felt as real as if the Vardikhar were physically present in the cityscape surrounding them. He took a good look around, trying to recognize the large metropolis spreading before him.

Hundreds of ancient buildings of limestone white as snow, not too tall but thick and wide, stood across the street upon which he floated. Tall, round pillars rose proud before those edifices finished with thick marble arches or beams built in the classic, conservative style that had defined local architecture since the days of the city’s foundation, well over a thousand years ago.

The Selected were hovering in a city that was as old as it was proud: Niemadar, The Palace of Pearls.

The roar of countless sliders, coaches and other kinds of ground vessels was deafening, as they came and went, sliding one or two meters above the wide, long avenue where Kyros floated. Some of the vessels went right through his body, forcing him to blink on instinct and to remind himself that this was part of the vision projected by the Inforacle.

Your Being remains safe and sound in the Nivid’zakuna’s Chamber.

He turned around slowly, his gaze falling on the wide, sterile grey cemecrete yard spreading behind his back, protected by a lime green energy field that glistened like a beacon.

The blocky structures of thick cemecrete topped with flat plate and steel roofs spreading beyond the energy shield suggested that this must be one of the factories or foundries found by the dozens all over the old industrial city . . . Except that Kyros had never known of any industrial facility that would require the protection of a sophisticated energy field that could only be the property of the United Continents Armed Forces.

A better look at the yard spreading beyond the energy curtain helped to confirm his assessment, as his eyes settled on scores of men and women coming and going through the facility in army green fatigues. Every troop had a crest with the initials U.C.A.F. sown at shoulder height on the left sleeve of their combat jerseys, he saw.

Some of the soldiers carried potent turborifles in their arms as they made their way across huge vessels, all different in size and shape, yet all painted in the same dark green seen on the uniforms on the troops’ bodies. Other soldiers pushed or carried boxes or crates, filled with what he assumed would be ammo or some other kind of supplies.

So this is a military facility then, Kyros concluded at last. A UCAF base of some import, judging by its sheer size

A searing flash rattled his body to the core.

For a millisecond he could swear he’d gone blind and deaf because of the blast that made the earth rumble near the place where he floated. Again, he had to remind himself that he was not physically there. The jolt he’d just experienced was a result of the vision and nothing more. Though that didn’t make things any less terrifying.

Kyros recovered from his start and fixed his Mind’s Eye on the pile of bodies bathed in blood that were spread all over the yard, as the entire military compound was consumed by fire and smoke. By the time he regained complete hold of his senses, the flames and the smoke, the wails of pain and the mutilated or dying bodies sprawled on the ground, were gone.

Instead, he realized that he was now hovering above a wide boulevard stretching under the shade of a row of round buildings made of stout cemecrete, steel, iron and spathaka. The edifices standing as giant pipes before him were a sharp contrast with the old, square, pearly structures of Niemadar, though this time he had no trouble recognizing his surroundings.

Aqualurbia.

The submarine capital of the Water Continent of Asropia spread before his Third Eye, magnificent and spectacular as ever. The incredible city that lay at the bottom of the Gulf of Asropia, forever kept safe by a colossal dome of sparkling spathaka, was a place Kyros knew like the palm of his hand; he just couldn’t recall a time when the street under his floating frame had been so quiet, devoid of vehicular and pedestrian traffic alike.

He turned to the other side of the street, immediately recognizing the bloated, four-story buildings of brick red as blood, topped by chalky white gabled roofs that he knew so well. As he looked at the cemecrete and marble square and the lushness of the esplanade and the seemingly endless stands of bronze busts rising before the main entrance to each brick building, he wondered how many times he’d strolled across that plaza but a few years ago.

He couldn’t remember clearly. But unlike his surroundings, the huge square of Vidya Karannah University’s main campus was a boiling pot of activity.

The plaza was filled with students of every kind, size, color and shape. Many of them carried technopads in their hands, equipped with powerful holoprojectors spewing heated protests in loud neon colors that hovered high above the students’ heads.

Protestors of lesser means carried simple cardboard signs in their hands, whilst hundreds of angry voices chanted the same messages that could be read on holographic and cardboard signs alike.

A student rally, Kyros thought, with a shrug.

Rallies and demonstrations put together by countless student movements born at VKU with every passing minute had been an everyday occurrence at the University, even long before he’d attended the institution.

Protests were always loud and annoying, but harmless for the most part. And none of the demonstrations ever made much of a difference, regardless of the cause protestors wished to claim, promote or defend.

So what the blazes does this have to do with the destruction of a top military facility in Niemadar?

A low, muffled hiss behind his back forced him to swirl around.

It didn’t take long for his Third Eye to discover that the buzz came from the rooftops and the ledges of some of the buildings standing across the street from the VKU campus.

His Mind’s Eye found a dozen black shapes that were crawling down the edifice’s walls, like giant scorpiontulas. The figures slid down the walls with astounding speed and stealth, helped by tow cables hanging from steel grappling hooks thrust deep into roofs and ledges alike.

They seemed to reproduce like arachnids too, for what was a dozen bodies at first had multiplied in a blink. Scores of men and women came down from the tops of the buildings and broke into a wild run across the boulevard. It was at this point that he was finally able to take a good look at the human scorpiontulas.

They were covered in bio-armors, black as night and so tight that they clung to their bodies as if the bulletproof suits were a second skin. Thick, mushroom-shaped helmets covered their heads; their faces concealed behind complex oxygen masks and dark polyplastic goggles. Most disturbing of all, however, were the deadly turboguns hanging from their backs . . .

And they’re everywhere, too.

From side to side the army in black swayed, running and jumping across the boulevard on their way to the University’s main square. Gloved hands reached for the weapons hanging behind their backs before taking aim at the spathaka ceiling spreading hundreds of meters above the city . . . or in some cases, the weapons pointed against the students.

One round of expansive fire was all it took to sow chaos and terror amidst the crowd gathered at the plaza. The thunder of expanbullets flying in a blinding shower of sparks and smoke had soon blanketed the entire place.

The sudden roar of solar generators accompanied by the sound of thick voices amplified by loudspeakers mixed in with the protestors’ screams. Several groundcruisers with the initials UCAF painted in white on their metal snouts, under powerful turbocannons mounted on rotating, diamond-shaped turrets, appeared from the farthest corner of the campus, along with scores of soldiers.

Some of the Continental troops carried turborifles in their arms whilst others took aim at the mysterious attackers with turboguns identical to the weapons in the hands of the army in black. Faster than the turkock sings, the once peaceful rally turned into a chaotic, bloody battlefield, when the warriors in black clashed violently with the recently arrived UCAFs.

Kyros was still shuddering when his surroundings changed yet again . . .

The wide boulevard spreading before Vidya Karannah University was replaced by a narrow maze of seedy streets bogged down in all kinds of filth. The boisterous din of a thousand voices, mixed with the roar of air and ground vessels, took hold of his senses at once.

He’d never set foot on the bustling slums of the largest city in the world, but Lúnembril had got to be his next destination.

No other place in the world is riddled with so much filth and scum.

Old blocks of brick, cemecrete, limestone and mortar, covered with thick layers of dust and soot, were crowded together along a street so narrow that rooftops and ledges standing at opposite sides of the street practically kissed each other.

Unlike Aqualurbia, vehicular and pedestrian traffic was so unbearable here that it made it hard to believe that movement was possible at all. The rags on the bodies of passersby coming and going like rats in a sewer made it all but clear that what Kyros was seeing in this vision had to be one of the many slums of Inner Lúnembril indeed.

He’d heard that the slums of the inner city were dangerous, but he had no idea of how violent things were about to become in the downtown streets of the Earth Continent’s capital city.

The rabble walking around him, or even going through his body, spread out without notice and broke into a wild run in every direction. As they ran, most folk hurled primitive projectiles at the cream-colored walls of the old, stocky Lúnembril City Hall building.

Desperate police agents tried to contain the wild hordes of vandals and street hoodlums whilst loud blasts, blinding fires and the unmistakable roar of firearms, were heard and seen all over the place . . .

Riots on the streets of the Earth Continent’s capital; a terrorist attack at the VKU main plaza; the destruction of a top military compound in Niemadar . . .

What in the slamming blazes is the meaning of all these horrors we’re witnessing?

In response, he bore witness to a new change of scenery. And this time, the astonishment and the dread that took hold of him as he recognized his surroundings, went far beyond any kind of fear that Kyros Draksas had ever experienced.

His body was hovering idly again, this time in the midst of the green gardens and the serene patios spreading in the heart of UniCon Plaza.

The beauty and the quiet of the greenery was perfectly complemented by the magnificent monuments and the spathaka busts standing on rows at each side of narrow, cobbled paths snaking through the gardens; silent witnesses all to the daily events taking place on the esplanade.

Not even the muffled tick-tick-tick of scores of fountains spread all over the square was enough to disturb the serenity of the gardens. In truth, nothing seemed to interfere with the relaxing atmosphere covering the entire plaza; why, not even the hundreds of warriors who appeared abruptly on the square, as if invoked by some prestidigitation.

Khevala! Kyros’ Conscience wailed, all but unable to believe what his Third Eye had just seen. They came straight from Khevala. And they’re everywhere, slam it!

They were clad in the same black bio-armors he saw on the bodies of the terrorists who attacked the VKU campus. But this time the number of warriors kept swelling and swelling, all come from the depths of the Intangible World!

In a blink, the gardens were covered in black bio-armors. Swiftly but steadily the huge army in black made its way across rows of trees, statues and fountains that could do nothing but watch helplessly, unable to stop the warriors’ relentless drive to their final destination.

And they truly were everywhere.

There were so many warriors, in fact, that most of them went right through Kyros’ body in the vision, creeping closer and closer to the imposing transparent spathaka gates leading into Presidential Tower.

And then everything became pandemonium . . .

A blinding ripple of light accompanied by a fierce thunder forced Kyros to close his eyes and to cover his ears on instinct. Both gestures were useless within Khevala, though, for his Mind’s Eye was still able to witness the spectacular explosion in all of its horrifying glory.

The blast was brief, ending almost as soon as it had come. But by that time he was so shaken that he could hardly move a muscle. Panic and astonishment ran cold and deep in his veins, freezing him on the spot.

Lucky for the Selected that breathing wasn’t a must in the Intangible World, for they all looked so stunned that not even their chests seemed to be moving, Kyros saw.

That was when he realized that the visions were at an end, the Inforacle gone without a trace.

The coarse, leaden monolith had vanished as abruptly as it came and the Hall of the Selected had recovered its usual gloominess. The room felt far colder though, much more sinister and darker than before. Doubtless, the perfect atmosphere to reflect the feelings that had taken hold of the Asthana’dikhar’s occupants.

If no one had dared utter a word—be it oral or mental—till now, it was clear that that was not about to change anytime soon. All twelve Vardikhar turned their attention on their master, who came down from his unreachable perch near the ceiling to stand still as a rock in the heart of the Chamber.

The First’s leaden hood stirred slowly, his black gaze falling heavily on each and every one of his followers. The Great Master’s visage might have been devoid of features, but at this moment his gaze came across as inquisitive as it was forever heavy and cruel. None could ever hope to escape from that eyeless stare of His.

“What you have all just witnessed is an Omen,” said the First Among the Selected, in a powerful mental roar. “An ill Omen that the Nivid’zakuna revealed to me nigh an hour ago. And now I shall hear your thoughts on the matter.”

The Adi’vardikhar’s mouth was a thin, blurry line with no lips, no tongue and no teeth. No sound could ever come from that rotten orifice, but the voice of the Great Master’s mind was so potent that it was capable of tearing through the Consciences of all those whom he addressed.

Not shivering to the bone before his mind’s roars was impossible. And so none dare offer a reply for several minutes.

Again, the Great Vanquisher’s eyeless gaze fell upon each and every single one of his servants till it came to rest on Adristián Crisal’s Conscience. And there the stare remained, drilling the poor bastard’s mind in search of an answer.

“My Lord, this–this is nothing!” sent Adristián; in something akin to a pitiful mental croak. “It’s just a . . . simple revolt that we will surely crush like we always have.”

“A simple revolt, you say . . .”

If it were physical, the dry cackle of the First would have bounced off the rocky walls.

Kyros never knew if it was the weight of the black stare or Adristián’s own altered state, which prompted such a stupid reply on his part. Yet, after his brief observation and loud cackle, the entity in the smoky cloak remained silent, a predator waiting patiently for the right time to pounce on its prey.

“Have you lost your mind, Crisal?” demanded the Conscience of stout Jeorson Mattis. His gaze, deep and blue as ice, drilled Adristián’s sunken green eyes as sternly as the Great Master had just done. “Or are you just so slamming wasted that you don’t even realize how stupid you sound?

“We’ve just witnessed a series of attacks taking place all over the world, conducted with elite weapons and precision, by warriors come out of Khevala. And yet, you dare call these visions a simple revolt? Do you know what this means?”

“Oh, spare me, Jors!” Crisal gave a loud snort, his eyes sinking deeper into his skin as his mind spoke. “Don’t be so dramatic, will you? I suppose you fear these visions are somehow related to the Prophecy That Is Not. Relax, old chap! The Impostor shall never come back to life, if that’s what makes you quiver like a leaf.

“But even if he did, what could that . . . holy man of old do against the military might that we have at our disposal in this day and age? Especially since the Nivid’zakuna remains safe and sound in our Great Master’s hands.”

“I speak not of the Prophecy That Is Not,” Boss Mattis shot back heatedly, his typical Niemadarish fast drawl present even in his mind’s voice. “I speak of the visions our Great Master’s just shared with us all. It remains to be seen if these visions are related to the Prophecy That Is Not or no, Adristián.

“That’s a different story altogether. So try to keep up, will you? It’s . . . this Omen that makes my skin crawl, and I’m not ashamed to admit it, slam it. This is what must occupy our minds at this time, not the Prophecy That Is Not.”

An old foretell claimed that the Impostor—the only person capable of forging a perfect symbiosis with the Inforacle besides the First Among the Selected—would come back to life someday to reveal an amazing revelation that would deliver the peoples of Akaladia from their current bondage.

To Kyros the prophecy was nothing but a fable, however. He didn’t believe in the Trickster’s prophesied Return to Life, not really, though he knew that the Impostor Reborn was not the only threat that could rise against the Hall.

Some unseen menace could come at any given moment, determined not only to gain access to the advanced weaponry that the Vardikhar and their armies had at their disposal, but to the Inforacle itself. Should this ever come to pass, no matter how unlikely or unthinkable the possibility, the menace would also gain access to the Pinnacle of Power, the heart of the Adi’vardikhar’s teachings, thus gaining access to the Intangible World as well.

“We should strengthen our defenses,” countered Adristián, all but unable to contain another derisive snicker aimed at Mattis. “Let us set an energy shield around UniCon Plaza and fill up the place with troops, turbocannons, expanbombs . . . You know, that sort of thing so you can sleep better at night, Jors.”

What is He waiting for? Kyros spared a discreet glance at the Great Master, who was floating idly on the same spot, his black gaze fixed on Adristián Crisal still.

“An energy shield, troops and top weaponry.” Gun-Weng, Head of House Juniteki, furrowed his bushy brow before sending a chilling glare in Crisal’s direction. “That would be the same as digging a deep moat around UniCon Plaza and setting lancers on battlements built to watch over the entire place.”

Heir to a rich military tradition, Gun-Weng was the firstborn of the late UniCon’s Minister of Defense and the Hall’s main military advisor. In short, the man had forgotten more about the art of war than Crisal would learn in his miserable life.

Crisal gave a most irritating titter. “Come now, Juni! You’re not serious, are you, young man? What good would that do us in this day and age?”

Juniteki was seething hotter than Mattis, Kyros saw. “It would be as useless as setting up a slamming energy field and top weaponry all over the place, when we’ve just seen all those warriors coming straight out of Khevala, you witless moron!”

The expression on the man’s face changed radically, however, when the muddy brown almonds he had for eyes turned in his master’s direction. “I concur with Boss Mattis, Master. We must plan how to deal with this alarming situation at once.”

Before the First could reply Crisal’s silvery head shook softly, his mind letting out another mocking chortle as he did.

His mirth was very short-lived though, ending as soon as his liege brought the heated but brief debate to an end with a thunderous, “ENOUGH!”

Adristián must have been sure that he had his thoughts perfectly Blocked, Kyros figured. Alas the idiot must have also forgotten that no Selected could conceal their thoughts from their master inside the Asthana’dikhar.

The tiny olives that were Crisal’s eyes widened at once, his mind sending a timid protest, “But, my Lord—”

That was when it happened.

It was so sudden, so swift, that contemplating the whole thing in the Tangible World would be all but impossible.

Like a famished crowbat pouncing on a small, helpless rodent, a dark cloud of smoke fell on Adristián. A pearly or silvery flash blinked for a nanosecond amidst all that leaden smoke, before fading as quickly as it came . . .right after severing the head of Akaladia’s media mogul in one, clean, swift stroke.

Adristián’s head did not fall and roll on the floor; it just flickered for a second before vanishing completely, the rest of his body turning into a shimmering shower of sparks that quickly faded out of existence.

Kyros quivered visibly as he remembered what suffering such a fate meant within Khevala: total and absolute annihilation of the Being at the innermost cellular level as the victim’s life-force is consumed by another Conscience . . . Even when not gobbled down as eagerly as the entity responsible for Adristián Crisal’s demise was doing.

As the Adi’vardikhar feasted on Crisal’s life-force, Kyros realized that he would not shed a tear for the man. Though he couldn’t help but feel for the poor, hapless bastard all the same.

It was not Boss Crisal’s Final Death that made the hairs rise on the back of his neck, it was knowing that any of the other Selected could end up paying the same price for incurring on the Great Master’s wrath . . . at any given time, and just as swiftly, besides.

Existence across all realms of Creation terminated just like that. Again, Kyros shivered to the bone.

“Hmm,” purred the Conscience of the First, in a low, lazy growl. “Yes, this could never be as quick and clean in Sparzanna. Alas Boss Crisal was not wrong, I fear, for the Kuyogin’s Return to Life is nigh. Yet the Last Bastion of Power shall be mine ere long. Indeed . . . it will be within my reach soon. And then a god I shall become; a god that will conquer Sparzanna and Khevala at once!”

The spectral entity made a brief pause, lost in his own, somber thoughts, Kyros knew. The dark hood rose for a millimeter and the featureless visage stirred slightly, as if the First had just remembered that he was not alone in the Audience Chamber.

His black pits fell heavily on all of the gathered once more whilst his mind thundered. “For nigh on to two thousand years your forebears and you have amassed power, wealth, pleasure and knowledge beyond your wildest dreams. And it has all been because of me! Without your Great Master you would all mount to naught! The time is come for you all to repay the debt that is owed to your Lord and Master.”

Eldrick Ohlreman bowed deep in his master’s direction, imitated at once by the rest of his peers, all of them anxious to prove their unflinching loyalty and gratitude to the Great Conqueror.

“Master, if it please you,” sent Rick’s Conscience, humbly. When the leaden hood nodded in his direction, Ohlreman wasted no time to present his idea. “As we all know, the key to Connecting with the Intangible is the Spark of Connection. If we were to find a way to quench the Spark amongst the rabble, no commoner will ever be able to enter Khevala, and none of these visions will ever come to pass.”

“You speak true, Boss Ohlreman.” The pale, withered mask behind the cowl could not smile. But the feeling coming from the First’s Conscience felt just like a grin. “I can see how this would strike you like a clever idea at first glance. Alas do not forget that even those with no access to the Pinnacle of Power, and thus no way to enter Khevala, may still rise against our rule in Sparzanna.”

“Too true, my Lord,” said Maregia, Head of Durbatti; the only female member of the Hall, though you’d never know it based on her homely, rough looks. “We all know the Spark can only be ignited after downloading the Pinnacle of Power. And while the Nivid’zakuna remains in your hands, O Great Master, none shall ever come in touch with the Inforacle without your leave.

“Activating the Spark in any other way is impossible. Elsewise, the commoners would have been doing it for a long time now. But if we were to quench the Spark indiscriminately, the way Boss Ohlreman has suggested, we would lose all future generations of Mistagents thus weakening our forces greatly in Sparzanna.”

The Great Vanquisher’s hood stirred almost imperceptibly and his Conscience came across pensive, restless. “Indeed, Boss Durbatti. We cannot afford to lose any Mikhurvat, yet we cannot afford to take any chances either.

“The Nivid’zakuna is never wrong and we all know it. Yet every vision can be avoided, if the right path is chosen. Ergo we must act quickly if we truly wish to stop this ill Omen from coming to pass.”

Without waiting for a reply from Mari Durbatti, the eyeless gaze turned swiftly in Kyros’ direction. “Your late brother, Boss Draksas, he believed awakening the Kanazanda on instinct is possible. Or am I mistaken?”

All Consciences fell on Kyros at once, eager for a reply that he wasted no time to give.

“This is correct, my Lord.” Focus and do not hesitate. He hates it when any of His servants hesitate. “Before taking the Final Step into Khevala my brother Lyenkos conceived a theory proposing that the Spark of Connection can be kindled on instinct and without any outside help.

“Having said that, this phenomenon can only occur under a complex combination of factors. At least in accordance to Lyenkos’ speculations. And well, it would probably take me the rest of the day to explain his theory in full.

“Suffice it to say that this can only happen to folk born with a Kanazanda latent and strong enough to wake through a deep and intense emotional experience. Lyenkos claimed that this sort of experience would work like a trigger. But this is very relative in the best of cases. And well, my late brother was never able to prove that—”

“So this is possible then,” broke in the Great Master, his tone much darker than usual. “The contributions that your House has made to my Hall in the field of science have been great, Kyros of Draksas. Although your forefathers are to thank for this, your brother was quite the gifted man of science himself. Ergo his theories should not be discarded so out of hand. However, if he found the disease then I am to assume he also found the cure. Or am I mistaken?”

Kyros shook his head at once. “Again, you are correct, my Lord. Lyenkos developed an extraordinary program to locate and quench the Spark with little effort. However, the program does come with certain notable . . . side effects. For no patient subjected to this treatment will live for long. Nonetheless, we could always introduce the program to the general population through the UniCon as a new health bill and—”

“We cannot do this,” broke in Gun-Weng Juniteki. And Kyros felt the fear flooding the man as if it came from his own Conscience. “Keeping the commoners in line unbeknownst to them is one thing. But . . . massive genocide is a completely different thing altogether, Kyros.

“That could very well unleash the Omen’s visions, should the rabble come to learn that the UniCon’s killing people right and left through some alleged health program. The risk that this may derive in an armed uprising against our rule is too great.”

Careful now, Juni, Kyros thought, somberly. That fearful line of thinking is what led my dear brother Lee straight into the grave.

“To my understanding, this shall only apply to those amongst the commons born with a strong, latent Kanazanda, Boss Juniteki,” noted the Adi’vardikhar, shrewd as ever. “And as we all know, this kind of folk are quite the rarity . . . ”

Again, the eyeless pits fell on Kyros, waiting eagerly for the answer to the question that the First had left unspoken.

“Indeed, my Master,” was his immediate, confident reply. “Since the Omen concerns the future, I suggest we concentrate our efforts on newborns with a strong, latent Spark. This way we should be able to continue splitting the rabble into groups, based on those who can be trained as Mikhurvat, the way we always have.

“The rest can be subjected to the program under . . . any excuse that we might come up with to justify the treatment through government, as I was saying before Boss Juniteki’s intervention. Now, this should reduce the number of casualties greatly, I reckon, whilst at the same time it will allow us to continue breeding Mistagents. And since the commons are not the most aware of folk, a few deaths will go unnoticed to the eyes of the many.”

“Good, Kyros of Draksas.” The First gave a satisfied purr. “Very good! Forget any mission I might have assigned to you before this day, for I leave it in your hands that the peoples of Akaladia remain under the heel of their rightful masters. Henceforth, any and all folk born with a latent and strong Kanazanda, that is neither part of my Hall nor chosen to become Mikhurvat, shall be put to this treatment of yours. This is my will.”

“And I shall see it done, my Liege,” Kyros intoned solemnly, bowing deeply to his lord as his mind uttered the traditional words.

Seemingly pleased with Boss Draksas’ reply the Lord of the Selected turned his attention to the rest of his followers. “I have a task of the utmost importance for the rest of you. Many commoners born before this day have a strong, latent Kanazanda within. Find them all through their Energetic Scent, watch them closely, and should any of them prove troublesome at some point, bring them before me without delay. This is my will.”

Now, that is one truly overwhelming task, Kyros reflected, whilst taking a discreet peek at the rest of his colleagues.

As they all did as he’d done a second ago, uttering the traditional “And I shall see it done” whilst bowing deep to their master, he realized he couldn’t feel more grateful or relieved for not being in his colleagues’ shoes.

The Energetic Scent was a person’s identity in the Intangible World. Even the ignorant commoners were able to feel it. The vibe was what the fools called it, a person’s vibe. Anyone could feel the vibe of another, albeit unconsciously. But those with access to the Pinnacle of Power could feel the Energetic Scent of a person born with a strong, latent Spark as easily as a hound sniffs a bone.

Alas the thing was that Akaladia’s population must be around ten billion now. And though only one or two out of every ten folk were born with a strong, latent Spark, this still translated to about fifteen million potential threats in all . . . And that didn’t even include all those newborns about to be subjected to the program to quench the Spark.

That was none of Kyros’ business, though. All that mattered to him was seeing Lee’s program implemented the way its creator should have done right from the start.

When he left the Asthana’dikhar ready to go back to Sparzanna—that insipid dimension better known as the Tangible World—he headed straight back for his aerolimo, any and all fantasies conceived around his lovely hostess all but forgotten.

He lived for the pleasures of the flesh and he was not ashamed to admit it. He was also the consummate gambler and right now, he’d just made a wager against time, against fate itself, which he was determined to win.


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