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[Dead] Alignak Simalucrum

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In recent months, the insides of broken top of Mount Ichthys had been refined. Now, only by entering a secure entrance at the end of a path leading halfway up the mountain, one could ascend staircases through multiple inner offices to two points. From the outside, the North spire rose like a regular mountain peak above the clouds, its outer walls appearing unrefined like the rest of the mountainside with calquartz trees reaching out from the rockface; but inside had been hollowed out rooms and halls like a manor. The other peak of the mountain was hollowed and punched out midway to form a flat surface which, on an overcast day, was concealed by the clouds. There were still black clad workers chipping small windows into the north mountain face and welders doing steelwork on the rafters of the south face. Around the forked mountaintop there circulated the clockwork monolith that was Ramesses.

Somewhere deeper in the base of the mountain, almost sitting right on the back of the great hermit, was another room. This room was utterly isolated save for one rigged stairway leading to Ichthys’ main offices. This was where Cain’s shadow was kept. He would forever be the dark, willing sacrifice so that the Cain who walked above could be his greatest self. This testament to his surviving greatness, when completed, would be called the Brain Room. 

Up above, Cain sat at the head of a conference table somewhere in the mountain near where the spires converged, convening with seven members of the Dead. Gertrude Verdance from Girdy’s Girders and Andrew Jorjorean from the Problem Solvers were each present. There was no complacency on his face that day. Hands folded on the table, his knifelike eyes encapsulated the entire room in their field of view.

“The nannies are playing games with them right now in auditoriums on three different floors. We’re going to feed them in an hour. One drop of blood in each meal, then in the morning we’ll file them through my office. How is the totem coming?”

“It’s going well sir,” said a man in a construction jumpsuit not unlike those working outside. “Three days until completion.”

“The Dojo roof?”

“Five days.” said Gertrude. “The salvaged steel from San Yara is being put to good use.”

"Great, keep up the good work. Dismissed." As the figures stood, shuffling to leave, Cain's voice came through the shifting fabric. "Darah, if we may have a word." When all the others left, he sat back down and folded his hands again. "Not to get sappy, but I haven't met you yet and I'd like to learn more about my people. What do you think of your little time in the Dead so far? Give me a little overview of your first objective with us, if you could."

@jaistlyn

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To the others, her stillness may have been eerie as a doll’s, and her appearance only served to accentuate the fact - large eyes, small nose, porcelain skin, long straight hair, petite stature. Darah sat in her seat, not speaking unless she was spoken to, or unless she had facts to contribute to the discussion. Those whose sense of smell was sensitive could possibly detect a faint hint of formaldehyde mixed in with her perfume. Darah was part of The Dead now (an apt organization given what she was). She had been unable to ascertain the status of Mister Brecht or Madame Undercroft. However, she was sure that her contract with them was still valid. At least it didn’t directly contradict what she was doing right now.

Her dressing was still impeccable, with a tightly pressed black business dress and her fountain pen in a pocket. If the rest allowed her to take notes, she would do so in neat handwriting - if only to appear attentive to detail. If she was required to burn the notes later, she would do so with no objections whatsoever.

The meeting ended, and she stood up to await her turn to exit, but Cain called for her to stay. She obliged, standing at her seat while the others filed out. He sat down, and she copied his action.

”What do you think of your little time in the Dead so far? Give me a little overview of your first objective with us, if you could."

“You are resourceful. Intelligent. Secretive.” she replied to Cain’s first question, a textbook answer that listed the qualities that The Dead proved themselves on. “Three of us were sent to the Hildebrand manor to assassinate the four Hildebrand siblings and the Norkotian Chairman. We failed in that.” Darah said, without any hint of disappointment or shame, just a mere stating of facts. “It wasn’t due to incompetence, but the odds went against us.”

“We poisoned the Chairman, shot Varda Hildebrand with an arrow, and severed Jasper Hildebrand’s hand. All non-fatal injuries, as I have heard. In addition to that, we learnt about the Norkotian defensive vehicles and the projectile weapons they use. They are better explained in the report than me saying it. Perhaps most importantly of all, we know the name of Tynes’ bodyguard - Diric.”

Here, Darah uncapped her pen and scratched a quick drawing. It was not as detailed as the one she produced for the report, but it was still incredibly accurate. It wasn’t that she was an artist, but rather it was a reproduction of her near-perfect memory. She passed the drawing to Cain. “The presence of this man vastly decreased our possibility of success. He commanded the rest, and caused them to perform better than they could by themselves. If you want to get to Tynes, it is highly recommended to get rid of this man first. Also, the probability that he is searching for us three right now is eighty-six percent.”

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Cain leaned forward as Darah spoke, posting an elbow on the crook of his knee and his chin in his palm. He didn’t look bored with her account; more like he was recalling a fond memory. In fact, having read the mission report immediately after it found its way to his desk, he practically was. When she had finished, he brought his other hand to rest on a manilla envelope that had sat before his chair for the entire briefing on the current state of the Mountain.

“Sometimes the odds are the test, and survival is the only item on the rubric that must be met to pass.” He slid the manilla envelope toward Darah. “You exceeded those expectations, dealing viable hits on defensible nobles and not only leaving with your heads intact, but taking a nice stack of information with you. This is…” he said, sliding a forefinger beneath the front face of the folder, flicking it open. “Commendable.”

Inside the folder, beneath the first fat file, were two stapled files on Diric and Tynes, one file on Norkotian defenses, and another file that detailed all the mines in Norkotia in their various states of openness and defunctness. The fat file on top read Disciples of Gaia.

“I don’t want to put you in harm’s way, but I do want to give you freedom. Power. Furthermore, I want to give you a new kind of threat to do it with. Let me explain. Officials in Norkotia are looking for the assassins from that fateful day, which of course includes you… How much they know is questionable.”

Pulling the document of Norkotian mines out of the pile, Cain pointed to one.

“Norkotia is known for its several mining villages. Moreso for its massive untapped reserves of Uru, which is an endlessly useful material to magically savvy engineers, of which the Dead has no shortage. I want to hit one of those villages and take as large a sum of Uru as possible. I was thinking that, either on our way in or out OR by purposefully exposing one of the attempted assassins at that mine, we could lure Diric to an untimely fate and open up Chairman Tynes to our loving caress.” 

Here Cain cascaded his fingers through the air as if against Tynes’ sweet cheek.

“My question for you is, if properly equipped, defended, disguised and then some, would you be the first leader of our newest force? I won’t mince facts—” he said, extending the hand that had flitted through the dossier meaningfully. “They’re kids displaced by the Tia event, and I’m putting as much of my blood into assimilating them into our cause as possible without… draining my blood bank.”

Somewhere stories and stories beneath them, Cain’s shadow grimaced with the only pain he knew how to feel— the pain of dying— as he was slowly drained of his blood in order for it to be fed to the kids; just slowly enough that he wouldn’t die, could regenerate some of it using steroids and stem cells before going in for another session. Such was the task at hand for the Earthbreaker Cain, the face of the Puppet Master, to function with a wicked smile on his face.

“Will you lead them, at least in Norkotia, if it means another swipe at Diric?” He slid his chair to the side and behind him was the image of the Alignak statue lit up on a projector screen. He gestured to it. “Would you lead them if it meant acquiring a new kind of power? A piece of my power?”

Cain did not look tired in the dark blue of the room, but in an overseeing manner he seemed more eager to impart great deeds upon others than to eat the hearts of kings with his own two hands.

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Clear dark eyes looked at Cain, as emotionless as porcelain. She did not react to his commendation, the way that others might when praised by their superiors. Perhaps there were others like her within the ranks of The Dead, those who had not been equipped with the human capacity to feel. People like her, they did not have a need to be recognized or loved. They were defined by tangible goals, and measures of success towards these goals. Some would call that cold, but it was only efficiency. A good leader would learn how to motivate each one of his people, and it remained to be seen if Cain was one.

Darah followed his fingers when he pulled the papers out of the envelope. She took up the document that was pointed to. It was a map of Norkotia and the locations of the Uru mines.

“Children are easily impressionable, but they are not very strong,” Darah commented when Cain revealed his plans. “However, at the same time, most people would stay their hand towards the young.” She placed the map back on the table and pointed towards one of the villages marked on it. “Humans are easily alarmed when they see children fighting. You’ll be sacrificing some secrecy if you send them to Norkotia. Word will spread fast, and they will try and find out who you are.”

She removed her hand from the document and sat up straight. “But if you are sure about the plan, I will carry it out, and rectify my failure at the Hildebrand estate.” The assassination failure was a blip on her mission record, and she planned to carry it all the way through this time. “Can I meet the kids first? How many of them are there? If you don’t mind, I would like an explanation of how they are trained and what effects your blood has on them.” 

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“Their will to obey is as strong as their will to survive.”

Cain was as a selection of 100 personalities that tastefully meandered its way from one expression to the next. The fact of the matter was, though, that despite his organization the First First Officer, the very Architect of the Dead was a collection of a million different stolen personalities. His was only a the nose and lips of the original rising above a tide of warring likenesses. Cain’s was the strongest, Cain’s was the Master, but swarming around the corners of his black painted eyes and playing on the edges of his ever-moving lips was the legion he had become.

The Earthbreaker stood and held the door for Darah. She was beautiful. She had undoubtedly wooed many men with her figure, her eyes, Cain doubted judging even from the little time he’d known her that she ever smiled much but her face could tell lies to an eager man that her words would not. Cain knew the advantage that beautiful, unaffected women carried. He had once tamed— been tamed by— such a fantastical creature. He had courted her all the way to death and back, and in the end it had contorted him from a vengeful man to something stronger than man could entail. Something immutable. No longer living in the singular vessel that loved and lost, but now inhabiting thousands of minds and become the very antithesis of authority itself, Cain’s capacity for conventional love, emotional usurpation, fear or joy had long expired. Now what remained was raw appreciation for and use of the utility behind them all.

“You may have been informed what Feedback is,” he said. Walking down a stone hallway illuminated with white spirit fire traps disguised as torches. There was an aperture to the right which appeared doorless at first, but as they neared it the evident fact was that a steel door with a crank-opening was embedded .5m into the wall. Cain opened this door for her too.

Inside there were four teens, roughly 18, who spoke to a handler from the Dead. The handler flipped on a projector display of a Dead operative scheming with a detective to catch the Dead on their next operation.

“Watch as Figus decides to betray the Dead,” said the handler.

As the man on display gave the officer his final breath of information, something unnatural happened to him. He paused at first, as if something were simply caught in his throat. Then the man on screen coughed as if the thing wouldn’t come out of his throat. Then he heaved, eyes rolling back as foam came from his lips. Figus, as he was called, fell to the ground clutching at his throat and curled into a ball before the display fizzled out.
“This is what happens when you betray the Dead,” said the handler to the adolescents. “We were able to save you from the wreckage, but we are no civil union or governmental agency. We are those who exact the laws of the world as we see them. If we participate here, fight for the cause, we have a voice. If we betray the cause, the organization who saved us, we die just like we would have all those years ago without them.”

“This is the rundown on Feedback our handler is giving the oldest kids,” Cain said quietly to Darah. “These will be the ones we put in peripheral leadership roles for the kids, but we’ll need somebody above them even. I’m not saying you’ll be that person, but you could be if you wanted. At least for these first objectives. Do you want to speak with them?”

The teens hadn’t looked back at them, as of yet focused on their handler and the paused screen.

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Indeed, Darah was built beautifully, her features carefully selected to match her creator’s own fascination with beauty. Her appearance gave her an innocuous aura, which proved to be useful as a veil over the lack of warmth in her interactions. A petite stature and a pretty face tended to disarm people, whether they were aware of it or not. They always gave the same stare of shock when she slit their throats.

Her low heels clicked on the floor as she proceeded out the door that her superior held open for her. There was no hurry in her steps. She nodded in thanks to Cain’s chivalrous gesture. That much courtesy was taught by Mister Brecht - to maintain professionalism at all times. The duo walked down the corridor and through the hidden door, Cain matching Darah’s pace as he asked if she knew about Feedback.

“Yes, the payment for betrayal. I am familiar with the concept of conditions and terms.” she answered. It was really not that different from Brecht & Undercroft’s contracts. You gained something - power, resources, prestige, in exchange for something that was of perceived equal or less value. In this case, it was a modicum of freedom, a deadly secret to be held close to the heart. It was something that may not be regarded as valuable when The Dead operatives signed the contract, but there was a chance it could grow in value later on. It was an investment for the organization, and a gamble for the operative. B&U operated along a similar vein, its beneficiaries never truly free from the agreements made with the firm.

The room was large enough that the teens, three males and one female, did not notice their entrance. What was on the screen kept them glued to it, and Darah watched along impassively. The dying man’s chokes echoed around the cut stone walls of the room. But as far as deaths went, this one was less than messy. Darah’s eyes flickered to Cain when the screen dimmed and he spoke to her.

”I’m not saying you’ll be that person, but you could be if you wanted.”

“If I wanted?” she questioned, but didn’t wait for Cain to answer. “Mission success is my only want. Norkotia remains my target. I’ll do it.” He hadn’t caught onto her nature yet. She was made to serve, and though she had her own will, she had none of her own desires.

The click of her heels alerted the teens to her presence as she approached them. The handler nodded to her, not recognizing her per se, but familiar with the First Officer. Darah herself did not look much older than the teens, but the way she carried herself signified deeper maturity and experience.

“Looks like you are left with little choice, isn’t it?” She spoke matter-of-factly to the teens. “But you do have options. Work well, work hard, and you’ll reap the benefits of being in the organization. Perhaps even rise up the ranks to work with him.” She turned her gaze towards Cain, who was surely a respected figure among them. ”Reject the training, and you’ll be mediocre and miserable, never getting any enjoyment. Or, you could die now and avoid the trouble of all this.” She waved a hand at the wall where the projection had been playing on. “Now, what would be your choice?”

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“Mission success is my only want. Norkotia remains my target. I’ll do it.” 

Cain’s back was turned to the unendearing Darah. It was a good thing, too. He bit his tongue, looking at his feet at the proclamation. It was like that, then. He didn’t respond, only swathed himself in thought as she ventured into the dark room at whose door he stood like sentinel. The children would only see him as a silhouette in the dim hallway. As she told the kids about their options, Cain wondered about others. While it was true that their arch mage was working on a potion that would erase their memories, it was incomplete. For the foreseeable future they couldn’t be released, because no matter how surgically their memories of the Dead were erased on being set free there was somebody, somewhere, who could undo it, bring the memories crashing back. For now, Cain knew, there were actually only two options. Thrive or die.

The Puppet Master felt honest disdain with what he had done.

Five thousand. Five thousand children he took. Just hours ago he had finished the mental programming for the Problem Solvers to be their handlers. Millions of lives he had destroyed, back in Tia. Even within the very lightning rod of all his arcane achievement he revelled in that he had lost, along with himself, everything he held dear. He felt for Darah, even though she may not even feel for herself. Without being a construct of his own, he could observe the irony behind her statement only to fulfill mission directive.

Behind Cain, in the room, the children stood to acknowledge Darah. All of them acquiesced, though not all of the 5,000 would take so well to the introduction of Dead authority to them. After eating in a hall of the mountain that afternoon, all of their bodies were infected with Cain’s blood so their obedience wouldn’t fall in question for at least a few months, and if it did Cain would know immediately. 

Darah had an astute knowledge of authority, or at least her programming was capable of finding efficient means of competing her commands. Cain was a thorough mind, though, and wondered about her loyalty. After Darah finished introducing herself and left the room, Cain continued down the cool hall with her. In silence they walked the slight decline, smooth rock walls illuminated by thin, eye-level intermittent lines of molten light. 

Every now and then, someone would walk past them. First an ominous, thin figure in a robe with a perfectly round, opal skull for a face. It slowed as it approached Cain, seeming then to leap past them so as to avoid Cain as much as possible. Cain didn’t address this figure, but his eyes narrowed at it. They sped up after passing this man. The next who passed was a perfectly regular human in a long, white labcoat. This individual had a well-trimmed brown beard and strikingly green eyes.

“Sir!” said Dr. Amantis. “The alterations to Rodger are going well. He may be a useful weapon in the future.”

His voice might have startled someone else. It came sternly, bereft of the leisure it had born during their meeting and leading to the room with the teens.

“So,” it was a hard tone, but Cain was more stern than he could control sometimes. “Do you know where you come from, Darah?”

Coming up ahead, even though they had been venturing deeper and deeper into the mountain, was a rectangle of white light that indicated this hallway spilled out into a much brighter compartment deep within Mount Ichthys.

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The gathered teens’ physical affirmation of Darah’s proclamation held little value for the present. It was not until such time in the future when they were faced with difficult decisions that they would remember her words. Despite so, Darah was satisfied with what she saw. Even if it was due to the effect of them ingesting Cain’s blood, she was sufficiently convinced that she would not face major problems from these children when she led them into Norkotia.

Reconvening with Cain at the doorway, she nodded her agreement to the task Cain set out for her. She followed after the First Officer, saying nothing about the curiosities who made up the members of The Dead. In time, she would become acquainted with them if necessary, otherwise she was content for them to remain peripherals.

”So, do you know where you come from, Darah?”

The tone in Cain’s voice halted Darah in her footsteps. It was a strange question to ask, ambiguous in its delivery, and made assumptions about her. She wanted to know, herself, what the Dead knew about her. Why had they delivered that first missive to her in Blairville? They must have known that she was working for Brecht & Undercroft. That was not a kept secret - it was a professionally open fact.

“Have you heard the rhyme of Humpty Dumpty, Mister Cain?” Substitute the fall for being taken apart by your own creator; and then being put together again by a savior, this is my present state.” She brushed down the folds in her dress.

“I was made by the witch Medeave, and served her needs for years. I did a good job - too good of a job, by her own words, and she decided to get rid of me. She couldn’t undo her own magic, but she did disassemble me and buried my body parts far and wide. It was Mister Brecht who went through the trouble of locating all of them to rebuild me.”

She looked at Cain in the eye. “Yes, I am contracted to Brecht and Undercroft, if this answer is what you are looking for. But rest assured, it shouldn’t conflict with my appointment with The Dead. If anything, it complements it. Our contracts can give you anything you want, in return for a satisfactory tradeoff that will be agreed upon by both parties.” Her sales pitch was not aggressive, simply put forward as an option should Cain be interested.

“How much of this is new to you?” This time, she was the one to pose a question.

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Cain had asked the obviously loaded question. He had packed pages of meaning into the sentence, ready to analyze her response. Unfair, underhanded some might think, but nonetheless important to him. In his early days what had it gotten him? Abandoned, eviscerated in the public eye; but on the other hand information that helped him become stronger than ever— but at the cost of other invaluable things. Through his obstacles Cain had learned, become his desired type of stronger. He was one side of his own coin that he strove to call perseverance. This side of this coin was the attitude for which he probed in those he hoped to trust most; and the answers to the implied questions in his nuance were where he started.

How much can the Dead trust you? How much do you know about yourself, being a creation of sorts? If given information, would you use it to help or to harm the Dead?

Walking before her down the spiralling stone steps, rectangular windows sliced deeply inward from the mountain splashing the golden afternoon light intermittently across their path, Cain listened intently. They passed more doors and more officials, some donning the outfits of engineers and others doctors; eventually, though, they walked alone. 

Darah’s responses were reassuring, without doubt. Satisfactory. What came next, though, did more for Cain than any of them. After all, this was more about getting to know an agent he hoped to establish a solid rapport with than anything else.

“How much of this is new to you?”

They were alone now, and the Puppet Master stopped. He straightened his arms, the sleeves of his suit straightening along them, and sat down. He leaned his elbows on the step behind him and looked up at her.

“I guess that depends on what you mean when you say, ‘this,’” he started with a quiet grin. His muted voice encapsulated only the small bubble of space around them. “Having a team of bang-up lawyers to clear my more innocuous cases? Running a secret criminal organization? Fighting for power? I would say I’m not new at all. Not knowing why, though. That’s pretty new to me.”

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Darah tilted her head downwards to look at Cain, whose current actions exuded a boyish demeanor. This man was an enigma, shuffling so easily between the role of mentor, employer, then confidant. With her question, Darah had wanted to glean information on how much Cain had known about her prior to her recruitment, but instead Cain talked about himself in a way that bred familiarity. Perhaps Darah had shaped her question too vaguely, but it was at least partially deliberate. It seemed to have worked to her advantage; or maybe Cain had used it to his advantage to avoid giving Darah what she wanted. In any case, Cain’s reply was interesting enough, and Darah decided not to press her original question. 

If she interpreted him correctly, Cain had a plan, but no vision. Darah lowered herself, leaning closer to Cain, until she was sitting on her haunches at the top of the stairs and staring straight down into Cain’s scarlet eyes. This perhaps forced Cain to tilt his head further back to look at her in a most vulnerable position, with his neck exposed.

“Then you simply need to find the next why.” She stated critically. “Else even the best tools at your disposable will become aimless toys.” She referred to herself, as well as the children he had made soldiers of. “Or someone with a stronger why will take your place. That is the way of the world, as I see it.”

Cain would feel a sensation of sharp cold steel at his throat. While Darah had been talking, a girl doll in the image of a child’s toy sneaked its way from Darah’s dress to Cain‘s side, then pressed a small but nonetheless lethal blade against his exposed skin. Unblinking eyes continued to stare into Cain’s, long enough to unsettle.

Then Darah straightened up, and the little doll returned to her side. She had no intention of betrayal, but only wanted to prove a point to Cain.

“You’re going to show me something, I believe?” She continued the conversation, as if nothing had transpired. “You’ve brought me all this way.”

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The two had come to sit at a point beyond the golden slits of sun; they were so near the white light at the bottom of the winding stair its source seemed just around the next bend. Darah’s eyes were piercing, a contextless and unreadable inquiry into Cain’s own. What they found was that, for a moment, he spelled out to her something inside him beyond the Dead. He had found Darah through the legal firm and tested her at the Hildebrand estate, but anything prior to that was a mystery to him. Here in the dark, riverbed hues of brown glowed in his eyes, and without him speaking Darah would see in its contemplation that he was absorbing at least some of her story for the first time.

The Puppet Master took her next response in two parts.

“Then you simply need to find the next why.” 

This he stole for himself, locked away advice he would employ in as-of-yet obscure parts of his life.

“Else even the best tools at your disposable will become aimless toys. Or someone with a stronger why will take your place. That is the way of the world, as I see it.”

By the time she finished speaking, the open book that had been his expression during her origin story had become a stone enclosure. The warmth in his eyes evaporated in the darkness as if dying fireflies, his dim pupils now searching in her for the true meaning in her words. It would indeed, she found, be as if he had led her to beg the very question. With endless tons of steel and machinery, sensory satellites and battle technology orbiting around the mountain become fortress, an army of men and children drawing by worship from the power of an earth god arranged into formation above them, Cain could never say the Dead was without purpose. 

“I have many whys for the Dead,” he said finally as her puppet placed its blade against his neck. He swallowed before continuing, his Adam’s apple rising against the tiny blade and tingling his spine with a shot of the good stuff. Whether he had known the puppet was coming or not, whether he had a symphony of psychic strings frilled around him to sense such threats, he would be the first to admit that this type of pain was kind of enjoyable for a guy with his proclivities. “Many reasons to put my trust  in people who could kill me on my best day.”

“For now though, my goal is to sow discord in unfit governments. Mess ‘em up good, maybe destroy them entirely. You already know that Norkotia is one. As for the rest, they’ll become clear over your time with us,” he said, smiling with the blade against his neck. “And I do appreciate your willingness to cooperate with us legally! We’ll be sure to work something mutually beneficial out.”

When even Cain might have become uncomfortable with the amount of time spent with a blade against his throat wielded by a calculated professional, Darah withdrew and they could continue around the sequestered bend.

“You’re going to show me something, I believe?” Darah asked just as they rounded the corner to the source of the light. It was almost blinding at first. It was a brightness akin to the light emanating from the holy Alignak sculpture high above them which, at first, must be reminiscent of the heavens; but when the eyes adjusted and Darah could see what the room was, she would see that it was..

Disgusting.

Hanging in the center of the room, a mere silhouette before the brilliance forced through cacophonous circuit boards of cords and wires and tubes extending from its back, was an exact emaciated likeness of the very Cain Rose who had led Darah into this hellish brightness. The Earthbreaker gazed upon his Shadow with wan, distant sorrow marred with what looked like an eternity of time’s passage. Perhaps, once, the two had been close; but what the original Cain sought now stood before Darah, staring at what he had made of the man himself. It would be clear that the body standing beside Darah and the one suspended by white lines of light were at once the same man and entirely different, conditioned by years of not only independent but drastically polar lifetimes. The standing Cain was muscular, with archaic runes circulating his arms and torso and neck; while his counterpart looked as if, without the light that pulsed into his back exuding from his eyes and mouth, he would crumple in meaningless decay to the ground.

“He has—” the progeny that was for all intents and purposes, but not really, Cain, paused. Even with myriad lifetimes lived simultaneously through his puppets to serve as a buffer between him and the pain of his original self, he still felt it; still held some demented form of respect for it. “He has become my best puppet. An amplifier for the beacon of Alignak’s power for any who will worship him. It is, I could say, my largest sacrifice.”

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