Eysin had managed to damage her suit on one match, and Daegan used this as an opportunity to have her meet Asya. They stayed late in the Orb hall, practising a pattern on Eysin’s sleeve until she got it right – her first own integrated technique to the zerk – when idle otherwise, she’ll start healing faster, the suit started repairing.
“Always have extra pinks on you – no pinks, no healing,” she reminds her before wrapping it up.
Eysin learned that the logic of healing had been very similar to her copy technique – which meant that she could teach it to someone else the same way Asya had taught the self-healing sequences to her.
She also got a good look at a healer’s device – something they use to heal those who do not have the self-healing protocols. “Why would someone not have them?”
“They want to focus on, say, combat – and some of these protocols start conflicting each other. The fighters usually can’t have these codes. As soon as they have suffered a bigger blow, the suit might want to start defending itself, triggering the healing right then and there… You can turn all that off, of course, but with many other programs – we have seen it turned on with something else… And that got people into a jam.”
* * *
Eysin and the control-teaching Exo stayed late twice a week. Besides Eysin there was another young man who was following his movements and training. He shook hands with her, said, “Cassius,” and wasn’t particularly interested in hearing her name.
He seemed bitter – he didn’t even stay to talk smack with the masked teacher. But it was obvious that they knew each other personally, too. Cassius was no rookie. Eysin guessed he was partaking in this just for a means of therapy.
Every session had an hour of slow movements from one difficult position into another, while getting a good feel of the Zerk. At the second session, the teacher was burning some herbs in the hall, and it was kinda smoky – and Eysin could feel that it did have some kind of psychedelic effect on her.
The teacher turned it into a guided meditation, explaining that the plant can help her get a good sense of the spinning magnetic spheres inside her body and suit. And after feeling all those points out, it completely changed how Eysin moved herself in the suit. She no longer used her muscles and body to move the suit – she used the spinning points – it would allow her to do things that her mere body wouldn’t allow to.
In a similar session – Eysin got to explore some more of those internal spinning centres and she was guided to the understanding of the battle trance. “You’ve already shown you can enter it – it’s unusual for it to occur so early… So, I better teach you the basics. Do I need to go over the aphasic effects and all that, or do you remember from your first time?”
She remembered. And with a few sessions, she learned to control going in and out of the trance. It was frustrating at first – so messy that twice it even made her throw up – but once she mastered it – perhaps with tears in her eyes, on the edge to give up on it entirely – her experience wasn’t excitement – but it was a relief.
* * *
Headed out from the temple, Daegan stops her. “Can you come here earlier, tomorrow?”
“How much earlier?”
“I’d like to show you some stuff, you can now become a part of my guild… I’m not going to ask you to accept without seeing it, first.”
“Generous… By early you mean like, four?”
“Let’s meet at the cross-road at four.”
“I thought your guild things were also here in the temple?”
“They are, but we take a walk.”
* * *
A cold, misty spring morning. The first flowers have started to grow. Eysin makes it to the crossroad and puts out her hand, to feel if it’s going to rain. It’s already bright outside, but the sky is grey. Indeed, tiny droplets fall, making the mist retreat.
Daegan doesn’t come from the direction she had expected him to – but from a random patch of forest. “Good morning,” he announces.
“A little early for mushrooms…”
“I went to the sea. The sunrise is nice.”
“Sunrise?” Eysin looked up again, the sky was still grey.
“I’m just messing with you… I did take a walk, though. Listen, mine is a small guild, like an orphan… So, I don’t have any rituals for joining, neither many rules… So, we walk and I will talk a bit… And you will think what you think. And hopefully, before the matches start today, you’ll know it in your big heart – whether you’re in or not.”
Eysin shrugs and agrees to hear him out, and they start walking towards the Temple – but Daegan wants to go off the road, between the trees, and take a slightly longer path.
“But it’s not just one way – I’ll tell you everything about the Titan, and maybe whatever you want to know about me, should you find it important – I do want to know a few things about you.”
She shrugs again and mumbles a sure.
“What are you here for, anyway?”
“What?” Her head went empty, trying to come up with an answer.
“Why did you come to EESO?”
“Just fate, I guess…” She gives up on trying to think.
“You had to want to join for some reason, what called you here? What did you want to achieve here?”
“I just thought it might be more interesting than what I had back in RESO. I had no idea what I’ll find here – or if I found anything at all… Just that where I came from – well, I think there was nothing there for me – and I just wanted to check out the next spot – maybe better, maybe worse – but different, for sure…”
“How long were you in Reval?” Daegan doesn’t buy that – he’s sure she must have been motivated by something. Did she see an opportunity here to… Help people? Harm people? Get revenge on her commie partner?
“Years… You went there for a career or something?” He wants to direct her to talk about Jolie Rouge and hear her story from her. How does she tell it… Was she the victim, like in she was portrayed poorly in that old magazine article?
“Well, no…” She smiles, for the first time, “I went there because of a guy. And then stayed for another…” Eysin makes a strange step, swaying in a slow-motion way. “I went for a guy… I guess I was looking for a partner… Reval’s a big place, why wouldn’t I find someone there?”
“Oh…” He felt that conversation had taken a completely different direction from what he had in mind.
“And as soon as I had that someone – well, I guess I found it wasn’t enough – and I saw something else to chase… So, I got very invested in a ridiculous project…”
“It was not ridiculous!” Daegan protested.
“You are Jolie Rouge! How are you not proud of what you did? Why do you speak of yourself this way?”
Eysin stopped in her steps, was a little surprised that Daegan knew anything about it. Studied his face, currently had a childish expression on it. She let loose a long sigh, then awkwardly looked around, and… Started noticing things. There are trees and moss all around, and it’s soon going to get warm again…
The air was cold and dry, and it feels beautiful to her. “Hey Daegan, I think the fresh air is getting to me.”
“Well then, go ahead and take it all in.” He walked back next to her and wondered what had gotten into her… She’d been around these places for quite a while now – but maybe she never stopped to look at it for what it is… Something that’s not worth doing in Reval – the life in the city had gotten so busy and messy and ugly that there hardly was anything there to appreciate…
Of course, in every part of the city, there were little neighbourhoods of people – and they remained in tact because of their hidden kindness towards each other… But in downtown – where Eysin likely had lived at – there was little kindness to see… So, it was better to ignore the surroundings – and for quite a while – until that day – she had done the same here – just to not get depressed by the darkness and cruelty of the world – but for it had missed how life on Oeselia was completely different.
The powerful forest, the forest that heals. People live here. Villages and private homes, the Aetelbaers mansions, and Vinu Laos’ estates. The apple orchard and the insane parties people throw there, having a great time at good times. Most people here knew each other, and on most days were getting along quite well. There were no feuds – what a wonderful time to be alive…
And suddenly – she must have seen it. That she is now living in a completely different world to Reval. A place that pays attention to you and sees you for who you are… Maybe this is why, famously, the community hardly retained any people with ill intents. Near the heart of such great technological power – the necessity to make sure that power remains in the hands of men who intend to use it only for protection – is the most urgent. People who lived near the Oeselian Temple and EESO HeadQuarters – must have been extra responsible and helpful people, she thought.
That’s how Daegan saw it, too – Oeselia was a very special place. There could not be any other place like this in the world – and due to its nature – it must be attracting the right kind of people – or must have some way to filter out the unfit ones – the spirit of this place, for some reason, is trying to defend itself – and we are here to help guard it.
Daegan had long believed he belonged to this very special place – that the spirit had chosen him to do a job – and he remembered that, and now felt the urge to say this to Eysin.
“I can talk to the Orb,” he suddenly confessed, and they start walking again.
“Huh?” Not sure how to respond to this. What does that even mean?
“It can speak. The orb communicates. It is alive. The red marble in you, too – is alive. It is another being, an organism – it has a mind of its own. They are a race, and they have an agenda.”
“What are you saying… Was I supposed to know that? Is this the accepted truth now?”
“No, EESO thinks that this technology is tools. Like: weapons, vehicles, shelter… Just things of utility – but with what type of utility! The French refer to it, too – divine tools. This means they treat it respectfully, at least. Our rituals are lame next to theirs…
But what I have sensed – these rituals should be even more elaborate, difficult… Challenging even – because the divine tools are not tools. They are simply… Divine.”
Eysin was very confused about this situation. “Has this anything to do with what I will see about the Titan?”
“That’s my take on it all, just wanted you to know.” He specifies.
Daegan takes out a small metal case from his pocket and opens it – and inside, there are a few old white marbles that used to be someone’s zerks. “They must have wanted to quit, and let go of their zerk – they weren’t killed…” Daegan takes one out that looks cleaner and fresher, “take it, take a good look at that one.”
Following Daegan, she activates her suit, Daegan puts the marble in her hand – and she dives in.
The last moment.
Two men are having a conversation in a small room. She sharpens her hearing, and the mumbling tones start making sense. Repeat. “I am sorry about your wife,” the man says, raises his arm above the other man’s table – and the image goes out, like a drop…” The last moment.
“Did I just see someone’s actual memory?” Eysin gets a little excited but remains worried about all the aliveness talk Daegan just held.
“That’s what they think it is… The gladiator who wore this was Koi, and he was talking to Theogenes. The event you saw there took place a little more than a year ago or so. This man is now in Reval, he’s the head of Black Rain.”
“So, you have access to all his life memories with this?”
“That’s what the most curious of researchers hoped. Andre – your teacher… He had started collecting them a long time ago – abandoned marbles. He found super old ones too – some that should date back more than 3000 years.”
“And we have access to their memories, too?”
“In a way…”
“It’s not Koi’s memory that you saw. It’s the zerks.” Daegan takes out another marble and hands it to Eysin, “as long as they are in this form, outside a human body – they sleep, stopped in time and space… But if you somehow manage to absorb it again after all this while – it would be alive again – with you, experiencing again – and making new memories to look back at.”
Eysin liked the sound of that, but she was starting to wonder if she had just joined the guild of a weird, lonely nut. And if true, why the hell has no one dealt with that? She started having doubts about the whole genuinely she just had thought about some 20 minutes ago.
She handed back both marbles, she didn’t want to look at them again. “You know, Vinu did tell me I can choose to believe whatever I like about the marbles… But that I shouldn’t hit my head with it. You’re telling me the sort of stuff that would drive sensitive people mad…”
“But maybe it will give you a better perspective on how to work with it, how to maintain and fix it… Sorry, if I freaked you out with all that. I love this place, these things – and I just wanted you to know.”
She shrugs and they keep walking – they can see the temple building between the trees.
“Why not tell me more about Jolie Rouge?”
“Oh…” Eysin remembered that Daegan had made a very surprising comment – now he suddenly recognized her? He had trained her for a couple of months now, but never thought to ask about Jolie Rouge before. “Why now?”
“What do you mean, why now?”
“What is it to you what I did anyway?” Eysin got a little irritated. She was bored to talk about it.
“I just wonder… What has hurt you and what can be done to make it better.”
Eysin wished she had heard that one right, but she’d never trust such bollocks. “I hope this isn’t an awkward flirt thing that is happening here right now… I don’t think I can beat you, but I think I can hurt you well with this,” Eysin waves her left hand.
“Hey-hey, nothing like that,” Daegan stepped back and tried to think fast how to regain control. “Look, I’m just trying to understand who you are so I can know what to expect with you. I’m not looking to get into some, uh, particular situations with you. What good would that bring.”
“Ahh,” Eysin stretches her body and they stop before the terratorium entrance. “Look at us, talking all weird shit and not getting weirded out by it.”
“I am a little, but not sure what to do.” He starts walking again, “let’s go see the Titan.”
* * *
On their way to the room, trying to forget that embarrassing piece of the conversation, Eysin kept wondering what a Titan would look like and tried to envision something impressive in front of her eyes. Am I dreaming or guessing? Will the Titan be a large strong good looking human?
They had to go back to the front of the temple, “there is a backdoor, but it’s jammed right now… Another person will be joining the guild and it will be her task to fix the door. I’ll show it to you later.”
It was still early, so no one was hanging around the entrance neither in the long corridor. They walk through it, it’s cold and unwelcoming, then reach the Terratorium arena – set to zero – all flat – and walk all across it.
To the left and the right end of the arenas – there were many small rooms – not sure what their original purpose may have been, but these days they are used as locker rooms. They’ve even installed water containers and showers into it.
It is an incredibly large room, the large dome above it all – such sizes shouldn’t be possible… They reach the other end and enter another corridor – and soon Eysin will understand why it is not as narrow as the first one – she had been walking that hall for a long time – every time she came to the Temple Guild – but never thought of it before. She had no clue that there’s something that they call a titan. And that very titan was supposed to be able to move through these rooms.
They reach the Orb Hall – and it too is empty. The air is lit dimly orange, but the water reflects blue. Now, Eysin knew that the rooms to the left from here were the rooms of the Temple Guild. Leon had said the rooms to the right are mostly empty, but sometimes students sleep in them – and have themselves a little party. But she had not witnessed any parties there. Possibly because it’s not as convenient a party place as the houses back in the towns, mansions, and villages.
They weren’t headed neither left nor right – they were going ahead – up the few stairs before the pool, and then to the stairs that were at the last wall. The stairs went up to the same place from both sides of the pool, but Daegan directed them to take the right ones.
Eysin had not gone up there before – the second floor, and now, for a moment, enjoyed the new perspective on the room. She saw the top of the orb and a better view into the pool. The room seemed even larger now than it had seemed from the ground.
The wall behind the platform turned out to be a door – and it opened when Daegan put his hand on it and mumbled something. The door slides open, but it being as dark as possible – it was impossible to tell the size – or anything else about it.
“See this small water hole at the ground on the platform? This is where one of the Titans would normally sit and charge. Eventually – none of them made it back to their respective holes.”
They walk in carefully. “I call this place The Garage… Because well, we fix things here now. We’ve pretty much given up on the Titan, but who knows…” Still nothing, it’s utterly dark. But by the sound, it seems like another very large room. “The lights need fixing here, too – the other girl will handle all that… So let’s just get closer to it, I should be able to at least light up the Titan for a bit.”
And as they approach the approximate centre of the utterly dark room, Daegan holds his hand up to stop Eysin from walking into one of the legs and tripping over it. “Wait now,” he touches a large thing in front of them both, and with a weak flash, followed by a dim glow – a large object right in front of them becomes visible.
Had Eysin taken one more step – she would have tripped to one of its 4 long legs. Just one of the leg JOINTS of the leg looks to be more than two meters long. The legs lead to a big white ball with a diameter of about one Eysin – looks similar to the big orb in the other room – but feels lighter.
“That’s one of the Titans.” Daegan hums, looking at Eysin to see how she reacts to seeing it. “The Temple Guardian… There are more of them scattered on the islands – they broke down before they could be taken back to their charing points…” He walks over to one other “water hole” on the floor – “the Orb had reach to fix them here… Now, we can’t move them on our own – and in this form they are very heavy – nothing on the island could move it… This one has been sitting here safe for two years now… It is also the one in the best condition – but not in a good enough for a rider to get in it and place it on the charging spot…”
Eysin walked around the creature once, and then looked at the “channel” on the floor – the channel is full of water – and it’s probably connected to the main pool in the centre. “Did you try bringing them the water manually? Like… Feed it?”
“It’s this water that charges them, right?”
“Well, no. The water just carries the charge – the charge comes from the Orb’s energy source… And we must be very careful with what energy we attempt to feed it, too… See, the orb hands out very special wavelengths – each Titan has their individual signatures – they cannot charge themselves at the wrong pod – the Orb would feed them the wrong code, and boom… Just doesn’t work. If anything else attempted to charge these – well, it wouldn’t work. Send in the wrong power length signal and you’ll likely blow it and yourself up. Doing those kinds of experiments can mess with their code – and because they have horrible weapons in them – well – let’s say we want to avoid irritating that system in any way at all… So, we can’t hammer it into place. We can’t feed it with a random battery charge… And we can’t attempt to manually fix its signature.”
“The signatures are broken?”
“They all missed their charging spots because EVENTUALLY they all were broken in a way that jammed up their – get-home-on-time ques… Each of them broke down at a very different time. And we didn’t think ahead to make sure that we’ll always have at least one backed up here – a one reference Titan, so to say – based on what we could fix all the others…”
“What a dumb system… Why would someone design it like that?”
Daegan pretended to think about it as if the more likely reason for this design wasn’t so obvious. He didn’t want to put her down. “Well, maybe… To make sure you use the Titans to protect the local area, not use it to go to war to some other place.”
Alright, I get it, I get it – not dumb. I’m dumb.
“Fascinating stuff. So!” Daegan claps his hands together, “why I asked you to come here – maybe you can help me figure out how to fix them enough so the pilots can integrate with them…”
“Hold on, they are not autonomous?”
“Well, let’s leave out the part what I believe, and say that, no – they are vehicles. They need a human to integrate with – they usually prefer to use a certain host’s battery to become operational. It is also unlikely that another human can use a Titan that has already been used by one.” He looks away and thinks, and mumbles to himself, fascinated by it, again, “as if they play favourites.” He coughs and speaks loud enough and for Eysin, again, “think of it as a warhorse – and this one here – he fell in love with Imogen.”
“A horse… Well, I see a spider.”
“Ever seen a spider with 4 legs?”
“So, a horse.”
“Whatever, man! Hey, did you get to ride one, too?”
“No, I had a different speciality, never got close to them when they were still operational. But I did get involved with this project… And of all the people – Andre invited me.” He walks around the room and lights up some orange “beach balls” – the shape and nature of that room become better visible now. “He was studying them, and sometimes wanted a Gladiator’s perspective…”
Now that Eysin got a better look at the whole room – saw other strange objects and many marbles lying around, tables, old chairs. And 4 little doorways, of which two were covered up with an old rag. When she stopped to inspect one of the sealed rooms, Daegan took a few faster steps and stopped her from getting closer. “That’s my room,” he quickly said. “If you want to, you can have your room, but it can’t be this one…”
“You live here?”
“Hey, cuts the cost of living… You know, you can pick a room to keep your stuff in or when you want to tinker with your projects. Or you can move here, doesn’t matter to me… The T.G. don’t mind if we use their facilities.”
“Alright, and that should be the back entrance?” Eysin referred to the biggest door in the middle – the right to the other side of the entrance they had come from. Unlike the other doors in the room – and the entrance – it was the only one big enough for the Titan to fit through. The light passed through – the door had failed to completely seal – but it was jammed both ways now.
Daegan nodded, “it’ll get fixed. She’ll come… Maybe next week, I’m not sure. So, if you want to pick a room before her, you better do it now.”
“Doesn’t matter to me…” Eysin does another lap in the room and keeps her eyes on the Titan. “So, they are locked to this place… But why this place? Or were there machines like this around Paris and Warsaw, too?”
“No, they are unique…”
“What is so special about this place?” She wasn’t asking, she was stating that she couldn’t see that the Oeselian temple had anything more worth protecting in it than any other known Temple in the world.
“We don’t know – and maybe it’s better that we don’t.”
Eysin stops in place and cuts the whispers, sharp and clear – attempts to recap the pieces of ideas of this ridiculously early morning trek with Daegan, “so, your theory is that this super-intelligent life form is hitching a ride on us and we don’t deserve to know what the fuck they are up to?”
He smiles seeing the playful challenge, somehow he managed to not take it as mockery. “Close, but it’s not really about what we deserve to know – the thing is – we wouldn’t even comprehend it.”
“Well, that theory of yours is a little hard to believe…” It spooked her out – the thought that there was someone conscious hitching a ride within her body with an unknown agenda made her uncomfortable. And before she noticed, she was already wondering, would it manage to convince me that the agenda it is after – is mine and good for me in some way? How come I got so obsessed with the swarm? What the hell got into me for wanting to join the gladiator school? Why haven’t I noped out from this weird guy’s wacky theory about Eesian tech?
Daegan saw that she was struggling, and allowed her the silence for a few minutes.
“Maybe better if you hadn’t told me any of that…”
“You asked me, and that’s what I think. The official story behind this – is absolutely nothing. The running theory about all this Eesian crap is that it’s all here is for no reason – it’s a random crash. These things were not meant for us, we just happened to adapt them quite successfully – sort of like our brain was never created to be able to read – yet, humankind learned to write and read… So, here goes the EESO mantra, proceed with extreme caution, blah blah blah.”
“I don’t… How should I even take this in… I mean I was introduced to all that stuff like, these are building blocks, this is a computer, this is a glove, this is a suit…”
“Maybe it’s for the better if you keep viewing it that way. Don’t worry, it won’t hurt their feelings.”
Eysin sighs, too late, “I’m going to have trouble sleeping tonight.” She tries to distract herself and does another slow lap around the sleeping giant, this time she’s knocking on it, breathing on it, taking a look at it with her own eyes, and testing to see what she sees through the eyes of the zerk visor, “so you think I could get copies for parts that are broken here… Maybe from the other titans that are on the islands?”
“You’ll first have to see if it’s possible… Speaking Andre’s words, these machines are more complex than the building blocks of the temples… And maybe even more complex than the zerk and nervous frameworks.”
“Is the one who… How should I put it? Rode this particular Titan still here?”
“Yes, that would be Exo Imogen. You met her once when we did the Humiliation round.”
“Right… Well, I’m going to need to get her framework signature copy… I think I want to make a map… I will read everything from this in and see how much it matches with Imogen’s – where she ends and the spider… Horse starts… And possibly will also need the signatures for the other Titans – to filter out theirs… Unless…” She smiles to herself. Unless what broke them were the riders themselves. Imogen or whoever – maybe her signature broke it… Maybe they just have an expiration date – they age like the rest of us… Anything as terrifying and huge like that needs to have a vulnerability…
“Do you want to meet with them or can we get those signature copies in some other way?”
“I can teach you… Your Kaestus should be good enough for it, too.”
“This? That’s a contract glove… It’s just a database.”
“Please, I know very well it is NOT just a database. You have a ridiculous program in there which tells the yellow marble to do some very… Specific things. So, I could teach you a pattern which will tell the pink marble,” she suddenly holds a pink marble between her fingers and places it into Daegan’s hands, “to do some very specific things.”
“Showing me a pattern is just enough?”
“It must be just like you learned the contract programs.”
“I didn’t learn them, they were already installed here by the Orb…”
“Oh? Well… Then pay attention.”
Eysin activates the pattern on her own Kaestus. Tiny red and white lights start shining – a pattern starts forming and Daegan watches it, learns it – the start point, the sequence, and the final point.
“It looks very… Simple,” Daegan exclaims softly but with surprise.
Upon which she mumbles like a hypnotist, “The simplest things have the potential to become anything.”
Eysin stops the sequence, Daegan nods that he remembered it. “I guess they do not need to know the details of what we are doing… You absorb a blank pink into yourself and store it in a place easily accessible to the glove. Then you activate this pattern on your glove sleeve – contact the object – a handshake with this Imogen should do – or a tap, or a high-five, or whatever you like – and you’ll have her signature blocks… The marble in your store will turn white and that’s how you know it’s copied.”
“What if I accidentally over-write my signature with hers – I mean for you – getting an Exo’s settings was a big step up, but I wouldn’t want to lose my configurations to hers… I mean, she’s great and all…”
“Well, you can’t… That marble, not your framework, will contain her signature AND her framework settings – with that glove you won’t be able to read, either rewrite it. It will be impossible for you to do anything with it that I did not show you – unless you mess up the sequence. Just get it, and I will take it from you, separate her signature from her framework, and then I can do my job.”
* * *
When the training matches at the Terratorium started, Eysin saw the Gladiator from the mansion party way back – Raynar. They would occasionally end up in opposing teams. And when the day was without anything exhilarating, Eysin would spend her time at the workshop and try to get a better understanding of the Titan. Some days she found such interesting strings or blocks of code that she couldn’t even sleep through the night – not until she had solved it.
If there were any matches the day after, she was sluggish and made an otherwise difficult run for her random teammates a nightmarish one.
A few weeks in, she’s alone in the Garage, sitting by the Titan, and wonders what would happen if she attempted to read it as she had read the marble – its memories. She had not been able to do much since Daegan had not yet managed to get her a copy of Imogen’s signature, so she was poking around what she could, and occasionally picked up others stuff in the dark room – to see if she could find something to work on.
So, she hits behind the sleeping giant, places her Kestus hand on it, closes her eyes, and dives in.
Gunshots and Nord yells. The spider gets on its feet, walks to the Orb Hall, and sees some seven men enter, all holding guns, pointed towards the Orb. They start shooting rat tat tat tat tat – and all the bullets either stop or bounce off. The storm shooting for a moment and yell for someone to bring in the explosives.
As one of them turns to grab the devices from their backpack – the titan jumps down – right in front of the orb – the men all look stunned for a second, and then start shooting at it. As ineffective as it had been towards the Orb itself – it does nothing but leaves the occasional dust marks.
Eysin had seen the splatters do still exist both on the Orb and the Titan. When is this? The room around her looks different, the orb is significantly smaller…
Wave, pull… Snap – they are all dead – no action. The Titan had used one of its murderous weapons – a shockwave that pushes and pulls the air in front of it so quickly that it simply breaks every bone in their body, their brains…
* * *
The training at the Terratorium had fun days and terrible days. The best part of each day was the lunch – all the teams would sit together and eat. There was a lot of idle chatter, laughter, guys who had become pricks were humbling down, and some more people have found niches in which they had more talent. Some guys started focusing on weapons, others remained hand-to-hand. Eysin was promised to get someone to teach her about the Kaestus’ “control” abilities, too – but the person for it had not come to the islands yet, so she had to wait a little longer.
During one of such lunch hours Daegan showed up and sat next to her, they ate and he participated in the idle chatter until he sneaked a few pink pearls to Eysin. “Got three, I hope they’ll do.”
“Hey, Daegan,” one of the other novices suddenly asks, making sure everyone else at the table pays attention, too, “what’s this rumour we heard about the restructuring?”
“It’s a longer story, you’ll all hear it next week.”
“Come on, we pretty much have heard it all – we just wanna know what parts are true? Are Vinu and Theogenes leaving EESO for good?”
“Is Dux taking over? Will we be merged with RESO?”
“Alright, no. Theogenes, for now, is focusing on his expedition – he is not leaving us. Mr Laos will function as the acting head… And most Exos will lead smaller guilds from there on – how you guys will choose which you go might much depend on your specialities.”
“Why is this happening?”
“We’ve grown a thousand per cent – the way things used to be organized no longer works at this scale, that’s all. This is all a very normal process… In the end, the idea is to make it better for everyone who stays and has chosen to come here. Our goals are still the same, nothing changes there.”
“What’s wrong with it now?”
“You’ll see, soon – as soon as this training ends – you’ll go to your specialities – many of you to such niche ones you won’t have 5 friends to dine with – you’ll have many lonely meals. Which, in turn, might motivate you – without you knowing it – to get into something shitty.”
“What kind of crap this that?”
“EESO is getting too big to see itself as a family, that re-structuring aims to help, that’s all there is.”
“What about Dux August and RESO?”
“He just has a stake in the Temple Guild. The only place you might see RESO is at the Pits, this year.”
* * *
Some dives into the Titan’s memories were deeper than expected. She could watch around the room and try to make sense of the light and soundwaves as they were coming for minutes – and mistake it for a very strange music video. And when she remembered – she was there to look what else it remembered…
She saw the woman named Imogen sitting next to one of the small doorways. A bottle in her hand. She had a lot of eyeliner smudged all over her face, and her face was otherwise pale. She’d been crying a crazy lot.
And Imogen is talking something. Confessing. The bottle then changes hands and another person comes into her visuals.
Leon looks tired, worried, lost…
Without understanding the dialogue, but sensing it out – the conversation had been of a failed pregnancy. There would have been good reasons to abort, but Imogen had wanted the baby… But eventually, the pregnancy failed anyway. This had been the day she found out it’s done.
She and Leon? Really?
* * *
For the next couple of weeks, when she had her time off, Eysin’d sometimes try to get a good look at Leon. What is he up to, what is he thinking, what is he doing. She got interested in who does he stay in touch with on the island – who does he dine with, so to say… And found out that mostly no one. He kept to himself.
* * *
Another memory revealed something more interesting about Imogen and that child. Leon had nothing to do with it – he had been there to listen to her and maybe to advise. It made more sense after Eysin found out Leon had been sent to EESO as an ambassador from RESO and the Rozenbaer family… And it came as a surprise to her that he was a sister to Kamile – the Vinu of Reso.
In another memory in that very garage, she saw Imogen again, and she was beaming, bursting with laughter, and headed into one of the rooms with some guy. There were many similar memories like it.
That guy was Arthur. The dead prince.
Arthur had been set to marry another lady – one of the Rozenbaer sisters. But Arthur had eyes only for Imogen, ever since they met, ever since she joined EESO. Very many memories point out to the two spending their nights in that garage.
Then came tough times where many people died of an illness. So did the Rozenbaer bride – and Arthur took his newfound freedom and offered his life-long partnership to her, instead, “will you marry me?”
And as she hears those words, something in the real world changes. Someone’s here. She snaps out from the memories and looks around. It’s quiet. It’s cold. It’s 3 AM. Her body is exhausted – and a match is coming up the next day – she will be terrible at it.
As she stands up to go to her cosy bunk for the night, it becoming the first time she stayed over at the garage, she noticed Daegan wasn’t in – or at least his usual dim red light was off, but the door to the Orb Hall was open. And she heard a melodic sound coming from that direction.
She realizes it’s some woman singing, so she continues to head towards the hall very quietly – not to startle her. She gets to the door and sees someone from behind – dark long hair, good figure, a high-grade Kaestus – she is facing one of the outer corners of the hall and just sings with a beautiful high-pitched voice… And strangely – the room learns the song – and as she continues, it starts adding harmonies. It goes on for half an hour, and Eysin enjoys the whole secret concert between the lady and the orb – then it stops, the lady leaves through the front door – and Eysin remembers to go to sleep.
But she just lay at her nest, eyes open in the dark. Singing in the hall, and the orb singing with the lady – there was something familiar about that. And something so moving. She couldn’t fall asleep, so she went down there once again, jumped over the water to reach the Orb dry, called up her Kaestus, and placed her hand on it…
Se-pa-poi-sid, se-pa-poi-sid, tee-vad-tööd, tee-vad-tööd…
A memory! In a hall and a child, singing this… Repeating and repeating until the orb started singing it along, repeating, always a step behind, creating a beautiful cacophony.
It shared a memory!
And when she went back to the bed and fell asleep, in her dream she realized it was more than just a memory of the orb. It was the orb saying, I remember you.
* * *
Roughly a week after the soldier training had ended, forgetting that the counted number of lessons with the control-teacher had concluded as well, she’d gone to the training grounds and found an awfully casual sight. Nobody was training there, people were having hot drinks and watching snowfall.
She stands still, looking at the training hall she, the teacher and Cassius would come twice a week, there might be strange sweet smells in the air. And silence. Because they all were listening to each-others breathing. And the low-voiced, calming instructions of the teacher, every now and then.
“You have to stretch your leg further back, way further.”
Damn, I couldn’t even say goodbye. She hoped to have seen the two again – but they weren’t there. Just some other rookies and younger gladiators. “What’s going on here?” She asked from one of the girls sitting on a window, drinking cocoa.
“Ah, there will be an open-mic show starting in 20 minutes.”
She saw the poster on the wall. Indeed, some community event. She looked around – and no one was alone there – everyone had come with somebody – so, she decided, she won’t enjoy it here.
Curious, she inspected another fresh flyer. “What’s this?”
“Flyers started popping up all over the island, announcing that the boss of EESO – Theogenes – is about to set on an expedition to Siberia. To find out more about the “recently discovered” anomalous area thought to be an ancient remnant of a similar situation to what is going on now around the Black Sea,” said the cocoa drinker.
Malfunctioning Eesian technology and its peculiar consequences – and it gets strange enough even without the masses of people turning against the Eesiansand starting a continent-wide worm hunt.
“You wouldn’t be accepted,” a familiar voice hollers.
The pay had been the part that had caught her attention – she was short on money – and couldn’t afford any personal projects due to it.
“Why would they not accept me?”
Raynar stops right next to her, “They are expecting more seasoned guys to join… And they place it up now, and show that it starts after the finals of the Pits – possibly to attract Pit attendees from outside Oeselia and Ceremony, too…”
“They won’t need good scripties?”
“I think they do – but listen, it’s really rough.”
“I thought I would be given a chance to do anything on this island.”
“You took a chance – you’re a wittle gladiator now. I was going to go see the show? Care to join?”
She joins, they watch the fun but don’t partake.
* * *
“What do I do now that it’s over? Take the patrol job?” Eysin had felt a relief – the training was over and she could now focus on her new speciality – but there had not been any surprises for a while and it did not look like she could make her personal projects progress any faster. And Daegan wasn’t paying much – Eysin could hardly pay her part of the rent in Denea’s super comfy room.
“Short on money?” He guessed – he knew most guilds were paying pretty bad.
“Yeah, how do you get by anyway? You’re full-time in Imogen’s guild now – how much do they pay you?”
“Not more than they do in the other guilds. Only when we take on tasks… But I was thinking something different – if we do mediocrely well for just a month and a half here – we can feed and clothe ourselves for the rest of the year easy.”
“What are you talking about? Some short job? Are you talking about something illegal?”
“Oh no, no. I’m talking about the Pits.” He points his finger on a wall – there’s the event poster for “The Pits” – read closely, it’s a tournament. “Pretty much the same games that we had in the Terratorium. There is another hall like that at Ceremony – big. Way bigger. And I am here to ask you to join my team.”
Eysin couldn’t believe it – why would he ask her? “Hey, hold on now, you did play against me and saw how I kept failing… I only did well when you were there to help out.”
Raynar smiled, “yes, that’s the idea. You are the support. You do a specialist thing – and we take care of the rest. You can track the artefacts with your machine, and you can decrypt some for us for extra points… But leave the guarding and fighting to the rest of us.”
“I’m sure you could ask someone who can carry their weight better. I mean what possible use can you have for my skills – it’s not like I can do anything that another scriptie couldn’t.”
“Hey, you want to earn the money or not?”
She wanted to earn the money. Resources were thin and Daegan couldn’t support Eysin’s private curiosities – but said he allowed her to take on her projects in the garage – if she gets the funding for it somewhere else. While half an hour ago she had thought that forget about it – I’ll just fix the Titan and do something else on the side – her outlook now changed. The prizes on the tournament poster made her think about swarm again. She had a hunch that she could figure out something with the swarm, and the hunch was that it had something to do with the blue marbles. And blue marbles cost a lot of money. She wanted blue marbles AND to afford to pay her rent and eat something nice, for change…
“Well, okay. What’s next?”
“I was thinking about getting the team together and all go to Ceremony. We’ll stay a night in town and go see the arena, talk with the team, and see where everyone is at… We can use the Torium here for training, just need to book it right…”
Sounds too good. “I don’t imagine I can just walk in a tournament, risk nothing, and get paid like that…”
“Yes, the entry will cost some money – and I know you don’t have much on you. But I’m willing to help out and borrow – we are sure to make all the money back and earn some extra, too. I mean, it’s like I said – even if we do averagely well, we’ll get paid enough so we can live out the rest of the year without any worries… We get paid per game, minimal fee if we pass, extra points for any decrypted artefact… We’ll get paid for being entertainers… But if we do extra well, we get prize money, too!”
“I don’t think I want to take a loan like that… I mean, I have no idea if I want to get into that.”
“That’s why you should come with us to Ceremony. I’ll have the guys tell how it was for them, the last time… And you, as I said, I can help you out a bit. I pay your fee for now… You’re just going to pay me back from the earnings, later.”
“You could ask someone in a better position to take that risk, I don’t feel like I can get into that.”
“Listen, sister, there are absolutely no risks – like I said, we’ll make it back easy if we stay in at least 5 games. That’s just 3 weekends.”
“Well, what if I don’t show up one day because I fall ill or break a leg or something?”
“That would be a damn shame!” Raynar laughs at it, maybe sincerely.
“Maybe I’ll chicken out… Or maybe you’ll find I’m not that fun a teammate to have… Then I’ll owe you and we’ll never set it right again. I’d just not like to get into that.”
“Just come with me, tomorrow, and decide after that.”
* * *
A few hours after Eysin had gone to sleep, Denea showed up. Denea had been outside, and she was a little drunk. Unexpected, and waking Eysin up with it, she snuggled up to her. She seemed to be crying. Sniffled and sighed, and finally whispered, “can you tell Daegan that I miss him?”
Ah man, what am I getting into?