Archon's Awakening

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Chapter 1: Richmond

Part One: The Archons’ Awakening

1

AI (After Impact) 9167:179 Umbral

The eclipse that signaled the end of their Pursuit was almost upon them. It was hard leaving a good friend, especially since Richmond knew that Gray’s next stop was in the arid wasteland of Darmycia to the north. Richmond remembered his time there fondly. It took a while to get used to the interface of the Saviors used in Darmycia. The ones there were modified to combat Ravagers, but once you got the hang of it there was nothing else like it. There were plenty of apprentices still dying out there, however, as the sudden outbreak of Ravagers had been keeping the guard on their toes. They had been more ferocious over these last three years, he’d heard, and didn’t like the idea of his friend being there. He knew Gray could handle it, but still…

“Well, Gray, I guess this is where we part ways, buddy.” Richmond extended a hand and pulled Gray into him. “Be careful out there, I hear it’s getting pretty bad.”

“I hear you Rich, I’ve got it. The savior will bow to my will and no Ravager will be able to best me.” Gray chuckled. “Don’t worry; I’ll probably be better at it than you after my first day anyways, so there’s nothing to worry about.”

Richmond pushed Gray away from him. “Yeah, yeah, Mr. Cocky. Just remember, those things will tear you apart if you get careless. Hubris kills with teeth, too.” Gray turned and waved at his friend as he walked away. Richmond needed to get going as well. He was supposed to be down in the courtyard in four hours with his team to return to the Capital for the Ascension Ceremony and he still had one stop to make.

Richmond had hit it off with Gray immediately. They met for the first time two years ago. Gray was just beginning his Walk of Wisdom when he arrived in Raxid, at the same time as Richmond was beginning his final Pursuit. There are four Pursuits for an apprentice, and Raxid’s Pursuit was focused on archaeology. Their task here was to learn about the area to the south, a vast ruin of an ancient city that had been devastated by a meteor strike. It had hit in the southern part of the city, and it was a hell of a trek to get to the crater lip. It was said that the meteor was so hot right after impact that it had melted right into the planet, mixing with the local rocks in the area. Once everything had cooled, the ground around the crater, and throughout the city were found the ruin’s namesakes, Xenoliths.

Within the first week the Gray and Richmond had been paired up to go into the ruins together. They were tasked to go into the ruins and find something that they wanted to learn about. It had been Richmond’s job to ensure that Gray didn’t stray too far. Richmond learned two things that day: He was a lousy supervisor, and Gray was an unnaturally fast runner. By the time Richmond caught up with him, Gray had followed a path by the cliff-side that led to a ruined archway. Beside the archway was a small opening in the rock face. Gray was limber and slim enough so he had worked his way in. There was no way Richmond could follow him as his stature was simply too big and muscular. Instead, he sat and waited. And waited. After a time, he finally heard Gray call out. Richmond jumped at the sound, afraid that something had happened to the green apprentice that he was responsible for. Richmond threw himself to the ground, arm outstretched, reaching for Gray. A hand shot up in answer, tiny pieces of crystal spilling out from between his fingers.

“Look at this, Richmond. There’s a huge pile of these down here, and there might even be some of it embedded in the bedrock, too, but it’s too dark to see. Do you have a flashlight?”

Richmond handed Gray his flashlight then examined the small platelets in his hand. He knew from his time in Alevenia that this was likely vorilium, a valuable mineral for trade, though he’d never seen it in this form before. Richmond had thrived in Alevenia. The journey through the mountains to the laboratory on Mt. Shannifort had been one of the best times of his life. He was a quick study in geology, the focus of Alevenia’s Pursuit. The Pursuits in Darmycia and Inquilaris had been a struggle, but that didn’t matter. As long as you excelled in one area there was no need to worry. Richmond would be looking at vorilium and the like for the rest of his life.

“This is vorilium, Gray. You’re saying you just found a cache of crystal vorilium?”

“Yeah, there’s something else down here, too. It looks like obsidian that was carved into a bird, but one of its wings is missing and the head is gone.” Gray held it up for Richmond to see. “What do you think we should do with this stuff?”

“I think we should leave it here. If we’re caught with vorilium we’ll be in major shit.”

“So let’s just leave it here for now and we’ll come back for it before we leave Raxid.”

Richmond considered this. The Archons had laid claim to all the vorilium on the planet. They used it to build their Capital City, and the rest had been claimed for maintenance purposes. There was zero tolerance when it came to keeping vorilium for yourself, but it was also extremely valuable if you could find the right person to buy it.

What Gray was suggesting was risky, but Richmond decided it was worth it. “Alright, fine. Divide it up evenly and we’ll come back for it before we leave Raxid.”

Richmond arrived there now, imagining what it would have been like to pass under what must have once been a magnificent archway when it was still intact. He carried on past the hole in the rock face and to the plateau. He walked to the cliff’s edge and sat down, dangling his feet over the edge. He looked down at the ruins and tried to imagine what the city looked like before it was destroyed. He tried to picture the people who lived here going about their daily business as he idly threw rocks out into the emptiness before him. After he’d had his fill, he looked all around him, making sure no one was around, and then raced back to the archway to retrieve his crystals. You could never be too careful with this sort of thing. The High Senate had decreed that “Henceforth, all vorilium in existence within the planet’s atmosphere is the property of the Archons, split evenly four ways between them for the purpose of maintenance projects and the continued support to the people that live in the wilds and sustain all of our lives.” It was a crime against the Archons, and the punishment was severe for those who kept it for themselves. If you were found with a handful of raw vorilium you would be sent to the quarry. Which one you were sent to depended on exactly how much of it you were caught with. A small amount like the one Richmond was gathering up into his knapsack would send you to the northern quarry for ten years. The northern quarry was one of the worst places on the planet, so he hid it carefully at the bottom of his knapsack underneath all of his travel supplies. It would be a long ride to the Capital, and then a few days after that he would be able to head home for a time. He wouldn’t be truly out of danger until he got there.

Before that, though, he needed to get back to the courtyard in Raxid before they left without him. Berna would never let him live it down. She had been the bane of his Walk of Wisdom. She was witty, funny, and terribly distracting to Richmond. She was the worst part of the first half of the walk, but after the eclipse that signaled the halfway point of the Pursuit they seemed to understand each other better. They had grown to admire one another’s humor and once they got to Mt. Shannifort, and saw that they had the same passion for studying the planet’s anatomy, they were hardly ever apart.

Arriving back at the courtyard, he surveyed the area and found Berna. She was standing near the fountain with Magister Benzel, thanking him for the last two years of mentorship he had readily provided for all of the apprentices that came to Raxid. He dare not approach her with a magister around, it was too risky. He found a bench just across the fountain from them and sat down. He looked down at his knapsack. The crystals were so heavy the bag was difficult to carry, and the weight of it was tearing at the seams, threatening at any moment to burst through and fall at his feet. Or at least that’s what it felt like. He sat patiently, waiting for Berna, and tried to relax.

He saw Berna look towards him from across the dancing water of the fountain. Her eyes lit up and she smiled. She said her goodbyes to Magister Benzel, thanked him one final time, then came around the fountain and sat next to Richmond.

“Did you get them?” Berna inquired. Richmond had told her about the crystals last year. He hadn’t been able to keep it from her.

Richmond scanned the courtyard nervously. “Yeah, I must have gotten there before Gray. His bag was still down there, I might have thought about grabbing both if I had a bigger knapsack.” In truth he was terrified to be carrying just the one. Nobody had ever looked in Richmond’s things before when traveling, so there was really not much reason to worry about it. But it still nagged at him that Gray’s bag was still down there. He told me he had already grabbed his bag before we talked. Maybe he just thought he’d get to his first? It didn’t much matter, Richmond had his crystals and Gray could take care of himself.

It would be a long journey back to the Capital for Richmond, Berna and the rest. Two other apprentices who had been with them for the last eight years, Sanda and Fillian, were heading to the first two in the line of Saviors that were to be their way back to the Capital. Then there were the Magisters that would accompany them as far as the river, and the Elder Magister. The Elder Magister is the oldest Magister in the city, no longer actively participating in overseeing the local’s wills and the Senate’s decrees. He would join them on the ship at the port of Raxid. Once in the Capital, he would present himself to the Archons. The Archons would exalt him; adjoining him and his wisdom to their own as a willing sacrifice, the greatest honor a Magister can receive.

The four apprentices would travel with the old man. He was to be a mirror for the apprentices to see what an honor it is to grow old in service of the Archons, to receive the blessing of symbiosis and become one with them.

Richmond and Berna headed towards the row of Saviors so they could start off for the Capital. It would be half a day’s run in the Saviors to the port, with the Coil rising as they traveled north. Once at the port they would board a ship and travel west along the Serpent River towards Alevenia. From there it was only a day in the Saviors to get to the capital for the Ascension Ceremony.

“You ready for this, Rich?” Berna asked with a smirk.

“As ready as I’ll ever be, I guess. I’m ready to start my life now that this is all over.”

“Yeah, me too. This has been fun and all but I know what I’ve wanted since before I started my walk.”

“Well these are the final steps of our apprenticeships, so let’s get this over with. I’ll see you at the port, Berna. Safe running.”

Richmond grabbed for the small lever that was hidden behind two of the hoses that comprised part of the Saviors calf muscles. He pulled, and when he did a small jet of pressurized air shot out from the top of its head as the Savior’s chest split in half, swinging wide and revealing the Neural Pod. Using the rungs, he climbed a short way up a leg until he reached the crouching Savior’s thigh that allowed Richmond access to the pod. He sat down, its chest beginning to close after sensing pressure in the seat, placed the Transfer Cap on his head, and tightened the chin strap. Once donned, it would sense all of the electrical signals in Richmond’s brain and transfer them to the Savior’s inference module. Richmond closed his eyes, allowing the rest of the modules to activate in response to the Transfer Cap, and began to feel his body go numb. It began at his extremities; first his fingers and toes, then quickly propagating to his arms and legs. It continued to spread until it reached his very core, and once all feeling was gone he lost consciousness. It was a peaceful transition as Richmond’s body and mind fell into stasis. Then, just as quickly as it disappeared, he could feel a new sensation growing inside of him. Feeling returned quickly to his new body as he opened his eyes, scanning the horizon from fifteen feet in the air. He looked down at himself, admiring the changes he saw. He saw his own muscular arms replaced by new, finely bioengineered perfection. His chest was encased in a jet black impenetrable metal that was insulated by a lightweight yet viscous and shock absorbent fluid. It ran through the Savior like so many rivers and tributaries, supplying the exoskeleton with the substance to every extremity.

Richmond loved the Saviors. His first experience with one had been in Darmycia, when his year came to train in the desert at the Buried Temple. The Darmycian Pursuit was different than the others. Where the other three focused on one aspect for the three years you trained there, Darmycia focused on something different for each of the two years you were there. One of those years was spent learning how to use the Saviors to defend against the Ravagers, the plague of the sands.

The group left Raxid and struck out west towards the port. Running in a Savior felt like flying. The strides were so easy and free that you never got tired; the structure and enhanced biology of the Savior allowed for efficient, nearly flawless motion.

They made it to the port quickly. Once there, Richmond’s Savior kneeled, lifted its arms, and held its hands in front of its eyes. He began to count to ten, as if he were playing hide and seek and was waiting for everyone to hide. When he got to ten he opened his eyes and found the Saviors chest opening to the world below. He hopped down from the thigh and headed over to the dock where their ship was waiting.

Berna slapped Richmond on the shoulder as she swung past him, grinning sourly. “If we’re sharing a cabin I get to choose which bed I want.”

Before he could muster a response Berna had run up the plank to talk to Magister Benzel about something, so he decided to go to his room. He desperately wanted to find a good hiding place for his crystals before the others got there. He glided across the ship, through the door that led down to the residential deck, and located his room. A lavishly labeled placard framed with gilded veilstone read “Richmond and Berna” hung from a sconce just outside of the room. He reached to open the door just as it came flying open towards him. Sanda and Fillian pushed through and stumbled into Richmond, who fell back and lost his balance. He felt his knapsack drop from his shoulder as he fell with a thud against door behind him. His knapsack hit the ground, spilling the entire contents between them. The crystals in their small pouch rolled into Sanda’s feet, a few of the smaller crystals squeezing through the tiny hole in the top where the twine wasn’t quite tight enough.

Sanda picked up a piece of the crystal and held it up to the light.

“Richmond, is this vorilium? Where’d you get it?”

“No, it’s not vorilium, it’s just some weird stuff Gray and I found in the ruins.” Shit.

Weird stuff? That’s not gonna fly. You were the best of us in Alevenia. You could name every single mineral you were shown so you must know what it is. Tell me.”

Richmond was not good at coming up with a story on the spot. He could lie about things if he thought about it beforehand, but if he needed to think on his feet he almost always blew it. Berna could have gotten him out of this. She was the quick-witted one of the two. He should have just waited for her to come with him. These two would have already been gone if I waited for her and I wouldn’t be here stuttering on the ground trying to figure out…

“That’s peridot, Sanda. We found it in the mines on the way to Mt. Shannifort in Alevenia. My turn for a question. Why were you two in our room?”

Berna’s voice was sweet relief. He could have kissed her right at this moment. She had a way of turning things around, putting someone else on the spot and taking the heat off herself or someone else with ease.

“We were just making sure the rooms were the same. It wouldn’t be fair if you two got the bigger room.” Sanda dropped the crystal onto the pouch. “We’re going down to get some food, you guys should come with us.”

“Nah, we’re gonna head into the room, get our things sorted out for the voyage.” Berna reached down and helped Richmond back to his feet. “And by the look of it tend to that cut on the back of your head. You ok, Rich?” She winked at him.

He felt the back of his head to feel how badly he was bleeding. There was no trace of blood, no cut, and not even a bump. She had given him an out. He pressed his hand down harder. “I actually think I need to go lay down, I’m feeling a bit dizzy.”

Berna gathered up Richmond’s things and dragged him past Sanda and Fillian into the room and shut the door. Richmond let out a sigh as he bent over and tried to relax. “You saved my ass there, Berna.”

“Yeah I know. I saw you rushing for the room so I figured I should follow you. You want to find a place for them, right?” She knew Richmond too well. She knew that he would be obsessing about the crystals; being on a small ship with a lot of people wasn’t a great place to be if you were carrying stolen vorilium, and Richmond was oddly skittish for a big man.

“I do. It looks like there might be a loose board up there in the corner. I can lift that up and hide it in there.” Richmond walked over to the board and lifted it, looking on top to see what was around. He carefully placed the pouch on the second board away from the loose one, in the same line of boards where the sconce was mounted. He let out another big breath as he lowered the board back down.

“I think I just need to sleep for a bit, Berna. Can I catch up with you later?”

“Sure thing, Rich. Try and relax. Come and find me when you wake up, we’ll go get some food.” She pointed at the bed in the far corner. “Don’t sleep in that one, it’s mine.”

Richmond walked her over to the door. “I will. I mean I won’t. I mean...uh, thank you, I just need a couple hours.” He closed the door and swung the lock into place. He did not care to be disturbed for a little while. He fell down onto the bed beneath the loose board and was deeply asleep almost instantly.

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