Chapter 3: GIOVANNI ROMANO
05 MAY, 2021
May fifth came in a hurry; I still had personal obstacles to overcome due to the lateness of the letter. It was a miracle that I had touched down at Imphal. The sun broke in the eastern sky as I reclaimed the keys to my Cadillac CT6. It was a near-perfect sunrise that could be described as ‘fairy-tale’ like in magnitude.
There wasn’t a cloud in the sky as it gradually illuminated with rays of golden light. I had seen thousands of sunrises like it, and each one was always a treasure to behold. Though, I had grown tired of existing amongst the living, I continued to respect the concept of life, and all it contained.
The rising sun reflected off the sunglasses I wore for the flight. I always tried to mask my identity anytime I would travel abroad. Though cameras were not invented in the first dimension until the mid-nineteenth century, I was always anxious that someone would recognize me. I had my resemblance noted once or twice in the past fifty years specifically in Europe.
My face returned to the tabloids today, considering it was the bicentennial of my ‘passing’. No photographs were taken of me in the first dimension—instead my refection had accurate portraits done. Each painting possessed its own uniqueness, but over-all presented a near exactness of my person. Thankfully we were required to wear a mask during our flight.
I settled behind the black, leather-bound steering wheel of my sedan, slammed the door shut and removed a hand drawn map that I had crammed in the pocket of my trench coat. It was included with the letter. The map illustrated crude directions to the Temple of the Inventors.
I assumed that Arthur possessed an identical map. Our memory of the temple’s location erased every time we departed its walls; we would only remember its secluded site when summoned by Elder. I leaned in to the wheel, started my Cadillac’s engine and attempted to program a town into my GPS that would take me within the directions on my map.
The dash mounted touch screen illuminated with directions to the town I had selected. It was tucked deep within northern Arunachal Pradesh; lying directly on the Sikang River. As indicated by my vehicle’s built-in GPS, I had to translate nearly nineteen hours of directions until I would reach the small settlement of Nahillong. Fortunately, I had arrived in India before dawn; if I didn’t get lost, I could expect to arrive in Nahillng by midnight. Arthur wanted me to pull off the impossible.
I pushed the clutch in and shifted into first gear. The motor hummed a brilliant tune as I exited the parking lot my Cadillac had been sorted into after landing. Getting a car into the Far East was a major inconvenience; I had no desire to be bound by the legalities of an Indian rental contract. After-all I was familiar with my vehicle, and had ample enough funds to transport it around the globe.
“I will see you soon, Arthur,” I sighed while pulling on to
‘airport road’, and headed north to the city of Imphal.
I didn’t reach Nahillong until the sixth—a day after Arthur’s letter demanded my presence at the temple. Dawn broke; a low altitude fog enveloped the sunrise. It made the rolling scenery appear as if it had transcended into the great beyond. I decelerated and stopped in the middle of the water-logged, country road I had been driving upon for hours.
It was not well suited for car travel and I was convinced that my Cadillac was no longer metallic pearl. The car-phone rang; it was Paige trying to reach me from Brooklyn. My thumb hovered over the ‘answer’ button as I glared at her phone number and picture on the console-mounted screen. She was most certainly responding to my letter, I contemplated pressing the button on my steering wheel. I quietly watched it ring until my voicemail answered on my behalf.
My eyes and body throbbed from the trip. The word ‘fatigued’ understated my condition. Though I was running dangerously behind, I desired to stand—for just five minutes. I put my transmission in neutral and stepped outside of my automobile. The air was cool for a mostly humid ride. The thick fog delicately masked the stone buildings I was once familiar with.
I could scarcely distinguish their eroded contours. Nahillong did not change much in two centuries, and was the same across multiple dimensions. It was in a way, unsettling. The motor of my Cadillac quietly hummed; its sound was accompanied by the river beyond the haze. Its gentle rumble indicated that I was minutes from my destination. According to the rough illustration, the temple was just beyond the settlement of Nahillong; nestled between the rocky toes of the Blue Mountains.
Its strong foundation was erected thousands of years ago, beneath the Sikang River’s gentle downstream current. I would require a small canoe to reach its secluded location; it was purposely built to be sheltered from the access of the average foot.
I caught the darkening silhouette of a woman leading her pack mule. I squinted at the unfamiliar sight; I had driven for hours without encountering another body on the road. She stopped within range of my headlights; I could now identify her characteristics. She was ancient; hundreds of wrinkles consumed her pointed face. Her weathered flesh was as darker than mine; it was splattered through-out with spots from aging.
“Righu ne ti ut’erishk,” (Who art thee that trespasses?). She spoke in the tongue that predated every existing language in the universe. It was the language only known by the Inventors and their guardians. “Uh…ne werih, ne rih’ek? We’s rikigh na’bui, sa frinth,” (You… art he, aren’t you? He without a heart, the Eagle). She stiffened while extending a trembling, clawed finger. Her knowledge of our ancient language suggested that she was another Inventor, or a guardian.
“First, I’d like to know who you are. How are you familiar with our language? I know the identity of the current six Inventors—and you are not one of them!” I answered back in our shared dialect. The old bag cackled as she waddled away from her mule.
“Yee’ve come a great distance, Eagle. Lion gave me and mine word of yer arrival,” her elderly voice cracked.
“You speak of Lion as if you are acquainted with him—might I question your relationship?” My anxiety swelled. I stiffened my posture; I didn’t trust her. Naturally, as Arthur’s prisoner, I knew all of his closest associates.
“Lion is an old friend of me and mine. He is a gentle friend,” her bare toes caught a loose end of her dress; jerking away a portion of her silken kimono; momentarily revealing her upper chest.
My eyes took notice of the slip; she concealed an empty abyss beneath her unstitched robe. It was black as the emptiest corners of the universe; forbidding one particle of light to escape. She immediately covered herself when she caught my brown eyes focused on her through my sunglasses. “Men art such vile creatures,” she growled in a high-pitched tone, “how dare ye look upon me and mine so freely! And now thou shall be punished… Inventor!” A bottomless hole approximately a meter wide opened beneath my left foot.
I grabbed onto the roof of my Cadillac the moment I felt my weight drop. The opening expanded; consuming the waterlogged ground until I was left dangling. My car started to lean; its driver-side tires slipped off the disintegrating edge; forcing me to scramble over the roof and abandon my vehicle entirely. I landed on the ground just in time to watch it become consumed. The elderly woman sealed the opening; erasing all trace of the hole and my Cadillac.
“Thank you, but making my car disappear will not relieve me of its payments. I just purchased it in December, and agreed to a thirty-six month payment plan. What will I tell the insurance company—that some interdimensional being created a void and swallowed my new car?” I stood up and brushed the mud off my knees.
Paige tried to contact me again, this time she rang the cellphone in my pocket. Not now Paige—I had greater concerns to worry about, and didn’t answer.
“Yee move very fast for a man without a heart!” She spoke up as she tried to create another opening beneath me; neglecting to be amused by my light-hearted commentary.
“And you move very fast for a Rikagi!” I replied while tapping into my abilities as the third Inventor—and guardian of the third dimension. I composed myself; brought my palms together and generated an extraordinary amount of electricity from my core.
A fantastic bolt of lightning exploded from the palm of my left hand; I directed it at the Rikagi’s form. She absorbed every ounce of the energy I hit her with; its thunder echoed through-out the open valley. I withdrew my talent as quickly as I had exposed it.
We were discouraged from expressing our abilities unless for the greater good—or for the preservation of our dimension. The elderly woman caved in on herself, and sunk to the muddy ground. My hit severely weakened her.
“Yee think thou est pretty clever… In…vent…or!” She spoke in a voice that was entirely transformed; its screechiness had deepened several octaves. I stepped away from the small hole that opened near my feet and casually approached her. A breeze caught my coat tails.
“Tell me,” I spoke as I bent down within centimeters from her arched form, “are there others, Rikagi?” I extended one of my gloved hands and wrapped my fingers around a tuff of her gray, tangled hair.
“In…vent…or, In…vent…or, In…vent…or,” she grumbled in
her deepening voice.
“Are there others, Rikagi!?” I shook her, aching for a response.
“In…vent…or,” she continued her ramble.
“Rikagi! Answer me!” I jerked her loosely balanced head, her eyes rolled around in their sockets. Her body grew heavier in my hold. I released her and started to stand when her clawed paw snatched the collar of the turtleneck I wore beneath my overcoat.
Her nails pierced through its black elastic and scratched my skin in the process. I slapped my hand on her arm and delivered a final serving of 300 million volts into her skin. She ousted a horrendous cry and began to vanish into nothingness as lightning danced around us. I retracted my abilities as the Rikagi incinerated.
“In…vent…or,” her voice spoke one final time before her kimono dropped to the ground, unoccupied. I clutched onto its fabric sleeve, as it too became vacant. I rubbed the silk between the seared leather fingers of my glove; the material turned to powder.
I needed to purchase a fresh pair of gloves when returning to modern society. Leather wasn’t suitable for the exertion of my talents—not like my old gloves, which were buried with an assortment of my possessions in a bodiless tomb in Paris. I was one of the most famous names in all history.
Like the other five dimensions, I had to have a death and proper burial. It was documented that gastric cancer was the cause of my demise. My reflections perished the same way in every dimension but the third. It was in the third dimension that I became an Inventor and its guardian. I clutched the top of my damaged glove and removed it.
My hand beneath was shockingly damaged from where I expelled the electricity. I bent my palm and could see the individual bones and tendons that tied my hand together; time was catching up with me; my human body was losing its ability to regenerate. I quickly concealed my palm beneath my glove.
My mind rehashed the past several minutes as I studied the kimono’s blue, flowered fabric, this was my first and only encounter with a Rikagi. I turned to face the void where my car was parked. Only its tire tracks remained; they came to an abrupt stop like their owner had been zapped from existence, which is… exactly what had occurred. However, the driver lived to tell the tale.
Rikagi were legendary creatures, and I paid close attention to
their mythology. According to the scripts, Rikagi were thought to have predated Inventors, when the universe was new—and its six dimensions were unbalanced. I studied Rikagi lore shortly after I was granted a position on the Council of Inventors.
I was fifteen at the time, and had accidently learnt of my talents after discharging a cannon while attending Paris Ecole Militaire. My classmates were stunned, and the incident was quickly brushed under the rug in order to preserve the image of the school. My superior officers would have lost all credibility if word got out amongst the common man that a ‘student’ discharged a cannon merely by touching it. It wasn’t long until Elder sensed my presence and sent for my immediate recruitment. She stated that my abilities were so unique that they didn’t make me powerful—they made me invincible.
I pitched the woman’s kimono on the ground; its light fabric
fluttered and then powdered in the wind. I rubbed my neck as I strode onward into the dense morning fog. Though my skin was cut in several places, I did not bleed—I no longer bled.
Unfortunately, due to the state of my stomach, I vomited nearly my entire supply of blood over the span of two centuries. It was one of the reasons I banned myself from eating. I did not need to eat, and if I did not eat, my hemorrhaging would not worsen. I thought of it as, self-preservation.
The sound of lively bodies filled the air as I stepped into the narrow streets of Nahillong. As stated before, Nahillong was a tiny village. Its people dwelled in ancient stone huts that once housed first generation guardians. They were a simple people; ignorant to the ancient history of their civilization.
As expected of their simplistic lifestyle, the women tended to their brood, and the men were fishermen who made their living by selling Burmese trout at a downstream market. I stopped in the middle of town and removed my sunglasses. The villagers gave me dirty looks as they bustled past me; conversing in their native tongue; their arms were heavy with baskets. I studied their glares and thought back to my person.
I resembled the people in a way; my physical characteristics were not all that different than theirs. My head was enveloped in a crop of coal-black hair, and my skin possessed the same dark undertones. However, my choice of apparel was a little too fancy for their unsophisticated, rural taste—it made me stand out. I folded the arms of my sunglasses, slipped them into my coat pocket and swapped them for the map.
Thankfully, I kept it on my direct person. The paper remained in one piece after my early morning combat session; it was one of the few times I utilized my abilities as an Inventor since being expelled. I cautiously unfolded the map and studied its hand drawn illustration.
A young mother noticed me intensely studying the paper and arose from the entrance of her hut. A toddler trailed her. She came near and leaned over my map with her head cocked like a curious pet. I glanced to her and sent her a delicate smirk. She returned my sentiment and then took two steps back with both of her palms presented before her, facing upward. She could sense our language barrier and utilized simple body gestures to ease the difficulty of our communication.
“You… are requesting the map?” I spoke in my most familiar dialect, since it didn’t matter if she understood me or not.
Somehow, I could tell that she was a trustworthy stranger. My tired auburn irises centered on her eyes as I rested the paper across her open palms. She sent me another smile—thanking me for placing my trust in her. I watched as she spun the paper around and began to look it over. Her child forced his way in-between us and wrapped himself with the messy tails of my trench coat. I paid no attention to his foolishness—he was only a youngster and not of my concern.
His mother was the one who captivated my immediate interest. The Indian woman’s eyes kept switching from me and the paper, flicking back and forth, something was distracting her—or she was making a connection. She unexpectedly raised her hand from the paper and graced its fingertips along the left side of my collar.
I jerked away as she pinched at the fabric that tightly cloaked my skin. The woman shook her head and withdrew her hand to her own neck, pointing at the equivalent location on its side. My eyes widened, I removed my left glove and slapped my naked hand to the side of my throat.
The Rikagi tore my collar; exposing my sacred O’ri tattoo. It was a symbol that represented the Inventor himself—and was the mark of the Inventor. I kept it concealed for all time—never to be exposed by portrait paintings or paparazzi photographs. The only eyes other than mine who had glanced upon its ancient design belonged to my lovers or ex-wives.
All agreed to never speak of its existence, even in divorce. However, the native woman expressed interest in it, as if she too had seen the symbol before? She gently reached forward and backed my hand off my neck. Her lips formed the word, “O’ri…”
I froze—I was shocked. She gave my hand a delicate squeeze and tangled her fingers between mine. The morning sunlight danced across the soft features of her humble face; its expression told me to ‘come’. I secured her hand in my grasp.
“Alright… I will trust you,” I clasped my right palm over top of our enclosed fingers. The native mother nodded and then turned with my hand in hers. She led me through the waking village; her people were now outside of their homes.
The smell of smoldering ambers occupied the temperate morning breeze. I caught the villagers’ judgement as my guide delivered me to the water’s edge. Her son continued to toy with the tails of my coat when we came to a halt at the marsh.
“O’ri,” the native mother released my hand and signaled with her nimble finger. Its filed nail pointed across the river. I gawked in awe; in the distance was the hazy profile of the temple. Mist rose from the warm water, partly concealing it.
It was unchanged after centuries; existing as the epicenter of all six dimensions. The laws of physics did not apply there; it was the oldest structure on Earth, and where the Council of Inventors assembled. The Indian woman returned my map to me by shoving it into my chest, “O’ri…” she repeated with a grin stretched across her face.
“Ah, grazie madam,” I nodded with my eyes fixed on
the temple’s distant shape.