Chapter 20 - Songs of Chaos City, Part 5/5

The Final Song: “Redemption”

I have come from a world beyond the Great Clockwork and stepped into the one it permeates, and I have found both wanting.
- Balsibart the Bard

Atlas
“Well, they are dead!” Atlas barked with a voice that walked the line between angry yelling and crying. “What are you still doing here then?! Not off to get your flesh melted? Please, don’t let me keep you!” He stared at the young woman with impotent rage in his eyes.
Yet, she did not seem to meet his gaze and just sat there staring past him, and for an insane moment he wondered if she had died too, right where she stood, just like the ones he had let out, but she did reply in the end: “I wish to be here for the end.” Her voice was calm and did no longer hint at the depth of emotion she had expressed through song only moments ago.
“The end of what? Don’t speak in riddles to me; I am owed more than that! I had my fill of vague talk beyond the gate, no more!”
Ayveron was dead quiet and John seemed to observe dispassionately, as seemed to be his nature.
The girl stood up clumsily and stumbled towards Atlas. She was blind. As she fumbled for him, her hand grazed his face and then halted there. “I can feel your presence, and I think I have felt it before. They called you magus and adored you, but I do not know what to call you, only that you are much more than that. I have lived in this city for one-hundred days tomorrow, and in that time I have learned much of suffering. Not all of it from the city itself. I have begun to remember a past life this soul has transmigrated from. Not in many words, but in images that come to me at night.
When we close our eyes, the blue light sometimes speaks to us and it shows us things. The voice of god… I have never seen this world and am lucky my defect has not been registered after my maturation; still, the images I saw were as clear in my mind as if I had eyes to see them.”
Atlas calmed down somewhat as he felt the cool touch of her hands on his cheeks, though the anger had dug deep into his being now. It receded like the low tide, ready to rise again and crash violently against who- or whatever was foolish enough to stand in his way. For a moment he wondered what Plâton would have said to that… His hand rose to a fold of his garb which, due to the belt around his waist, worked much like a front pocket. He had stuffed the book Plâton had bequeathed him there.
The blind woman continued: “When I was made, I awoke to a black world. Like the others, they put me in a small coffin and poured the universe through my mind. It was very painful…” She had lowered her hands and now curled them up into fists, her knuckles as white as her face and hair. “But I saw the blue light then; and it was beautiful in a way. Since then it has whispered to me many times. And I still see the things it has shown me very clearly in my mind:
They are strange images of a city with tall buildings, much like this one, but with an earthen ceiling and a permanent absence of daylight, though perhaps it is just the same here. The clouds never go away above Rim City I hear...
In the place I saw, many strange, faceless figures were walking the streets, which were filled with pipes and cords of cables. I was trapped there with all the others, left alone and forgotten for hundreds of years, time spans no other isotope incubator could hope to fathom; yet I can. And like the isotope incubators of Rim City, those strange people in my dreams had found some deliverance in their idea of god, though to them god was light: all the artificial lights around them, from streetlamps glowing bright and blue, and from a great artificial moon, grafted onto the ceiling and shining down on them. To us, god is ever-present, and so it was for them, though he was visible to them as well. Even now I can feel that you were there, or perhaps it was your soul in another body that has been in that place; and I can sense that you ended all their plight then; and I feel that you will do this again. Whatever has happened there, it is happening again in Rim City, now, and I think you will make it come to an end.
The people of Rim City have paid, in many generations, for the arrogance of a few, and I cannot help but feel that it is time for us to go to rest. You should not pity those outside for their death but feel relieved for them. If not, at least hope that they have found redemption in their end.” As she spoke, she sounded almost like a creature that had risen above mortal plight, that now curiously observed the suffering of the living, not taking part in it anymore. She was almost serene in her expression, though there was a pain as old as the world’s heartbeat, or even older, that shone through it all; at least that was what Atlas thought.
“Wait,” Ayveron said, “that place you are speaking about… I think I have read about something like that. Was there not a song about it in the Black Arkive? Something like… uh… streetlamps shining into our-“
But she interrupted him sternly: “Don’t! Don’t quote that song. It is too painful for me to hear, please. They all sang it… Every day… For decades… centuries…” A pained, almost angry expression had flashed over her face for an instant, but now she just looked tired.
“Very well,” Atlas now said, pulling the sword and its scabbard from his back and squeezing the blue lacquered wood as he gazed at the beautiful detail, worked by craftsmen of a forgotten age, the weight of it reassuring him. Then he shouldered it once more. He grabbed the girl and lifted her up with his good arm as to carry her with him. “I will lay this city to waste.”

Ísa
“The company you keep is much more conspicuous than usual, Yala,” the young barkeep said to Ísa, nodding towards the man who sat slumbering on a nearby chair and the little barefooted girl with the metal helmet that drank berry juice out of a big earthen mug, standing up to run around the table in circles from time to time.
‘Yala’ was one of the aliases Ísa had been using when the Shadow Society had still been at large. Once, she had lived a whole year in Altonar on assignment when it was rumored that a technocrat here had been conducting suspicious research. In the end what had been suspected to be a kidnapped Schamani of Druith, held captive for technamagical experiments, had turned out to be a regular old sex dungeon. Still, the Society had gotten some good leverage on a prominent member of the University out of it, so it hadn’t been a net loss… “Yeah,” she admitted with a sigh. “It’s like traveling with Balsibart the Bard.”
The barkeep, his name was Endil Yaruwald, knocked on the bar three times. “Don’t even joke about that,” he said hastily. He was a superstitious one, considering he lived in the third most powerful technocracy on the planet.
However, it was no joke to Ísa, for the man, no, the monster, was the Balsibart. Her captor. But she would not be so stupid as to actually try and seek help from the people of Altonar. They would just end up dead; perhaps the whole city. During what was now referred to as ‘the Onslaught of Balsibart’, entire islands on the Ocean Belt had been spirited away, only the clothes of the former inhabitants remaining. To this day no one knew for sure what the so-called Bard had done back then… “Well, that aside,” she started, “I am actually looking for someone. I thought you might be able to help or know someone who is.”
Endil took a rag form under the Bar and began to clean one of the already clean glasses, clearly to keep his hands busy. Ísa knew she made him nervous for one reason or another. “I might. Does this person live in Altonar, or did they travel through here recently?”
She shook her head. “Neither. But you still might have heard of him. He would live in the wilderness to the west, a hermit perhaps, or a sage. Does any of that ring a bell?”
Endil swayed his head times left times right, mulling it over for a while. “You know, we don’t really hear about people in the West. People who go there usually die: it’s a pretty inhospitable region; not just because of the Brammenwoods. The forest-side lake-dwellers don’t like strangers. And they especially dislike trespassers.
But now that I think about it… Old Marvin who works up on watermill seven, he used to talk everyone’s ear off about his days exploring. When he was younger and the wilderness not so deadly, he went on many ‘expeditions’, he called them. Had an aunt in one of the Brammenforts and got to explore the woods from thereon or something like that. If I recall, he was once saved by someone who lived deep in the thick of it. In deep, a good bit west of the westernmost fort. He called her… ‘The most beautiful and strangely unnatural being’ he has ever laid eyes upon. Sometimes when he looks too deep into his glass he still speaks of it. Do you want me to write you down his address?”
It seemed like a solid lead. Ísa nodded. While Endil shuffled for some paper and a pencil, she tapped the nearby Balsibart on the shoulder. “We are moving on,” she said coolly.
He blinked a few times and then arose. “I had such dreams,” he claimed with a distant voice before finding back to the here and now. “Hmm, strange. It seems you have given up on running.”
“I am no fool. There is no escaping you, I have been taught that lesson the hard way. Now I’d much rather get this pointless search over with and have you keep up your end of the bargain: I find the target for you, and you grant me one wish.”
He nodded gracefully and gave her a searching look. “You are full of surprises,” he said with a strange voice. “I had my eyes on you for some time, way back when I had not been sealed yet: You had yours on me at the time too and I looked right back at you. You moved through the clockwork expertly, without ever entering its embrace, taking your joy in the power and freedom that came with your employment.”
Her brows gave the briefest hint of a furl, but otherwise she showed no reaction on her face or in her voice when she replied: “Do not speak to me of this, spielmann. You know nothing about me.”
“But you are wrong,” he replied. “Emerging from the cold depths as a child, bearing the bringer of your doom as a reminder of what was lost, naming him your brother. The magnitude of his soul, rubbing off tiny shards of true might onto your own as your own ambition grows. He goes into the light, but you dive into the shadows, never letting go of his hand as it connects your two worlds, a safety line for both of you, until one of the hands withers away, and suddenly you are engulfed by darkness.
I can see your whole life written on the canvas of your soul, Ísa Muundir. It sings a quiet song to me, sad yet strong, and I cannot help but be intrigued. You have been so firmly entrenched in this world while your brother transcended into the other with much of his being; and even though you gladly took power from that place with both hands, you would not take it into your heart.”
She hit the table with her fist and everyone went quiet. “You bore me. You are boring. May we move on?” She said in a pressed tone, as if she was ready to prime tooth and nail.
And then he laughed. It was a loud, hearty laugh that echoed through the bar eerily, infectiously, and soon several people were laughing with him, amused by Ísa’s antics. The only one not amused was Ísa herself.
“Uh, Yala, I wrote down the address for you…” Endil said carefully, putting the piece of paper onto the bar, close to her.
She grabbed it without looking. “Thank you,” she said, suspiciously controlled. “It was good seeing you again.” Then she walked out briskly. She did not need to look back to know that Balsibart was right behind her, followed as he ever was by the strange little girl.

Atlas
“First things first,” Atlas said, looking through the opening that had led him and Ayveron down here before: the rain was slowly dying down now.
Ayveron also tried to get a better look at the surroundings outside. “Is the rain not destroying the buildings as well?”
The woman in Atlas’s arm shook her head. Since he could not hold her with both arms, she had slung hers around his neck for purchase. “It is, but the buildings regenerate quickly. The city is very much alive and its roots dig very deep into the soil. It will heal any damage to its infrastructure as long as it lives.”
Atlas did not have an easy time trying to grasp how a city was alive. Maybe the different parts were like organs? “How do I kill it then?” he asked.
“Destroy the heart,” she replied.
His guess had been right! That or she had mind-reading abilities. Was that a thing? He tried sifting through his recovered memories, but nothing came up. “Where is that then?”
She furled her brow. “It is… not quite in the center of the city, but close. The tallest building there, next to the great reactor. I have been told that letters on its front spell out ‘Institute of Gyrometrics, Autogyromechanics and Neurocomputation’.”
Ayveron sucked in the air audibly, but Atlas was not concerned with that now. He simply walked outside, the rain ceasing around him, for this was the silent prayer he spoke to his sword.
Ayveron and John followed quietly as Atlas headed towards what he believed to be the center of the city, but he soon got turned around, unfamiliar with the disorienting quality of the tall buildings and street patterns. Ayveron had to correct their course more than once and it was in fact a far walk to their destination.
On the way, Ayveron tried to, as he probably believed, talk sense into Atlas: “Look, I get where you are coming from, Atlas, but can we really just kill all these people? Shouldn’t we at least try to evacuate them first?”
“I respect your regard for their lives, but how would we do that in any sort of responsible time-frame? I am not saying this is how it is, but don’t you think this whole clockwork reactor of theirs might have had something to do with a soul plague suddenly breaking out? I don’t want to have that thing start up more often than necessary, so time is a factor. Besides I don’t know what kind of defenses this city can mount, but I don’t want to give it the opportunity.”
Ayveron opened his mouth, then closed it again, then said, “Those are surprisingly good points…”
Atlas raised a brow. “Surprisingly?”
“But-” Ayveron gritted his teeth and sighed. “I wanted to talk to you about this after we got out of here, but I think now might be a better time after all. You are not a tool, Atlas.”
Atlas stopped, utterly nonplussed. “I’m not… what?”
Ayveron used the opportunity to move to face him. “A tool. You’re not a hammer, nor a nail, not a spanner, nor a screwdriver.”
“You know, I think you might be on to something there, Ayveron,” Atlas noted drily.
“It’s a metaphor, Atlas, let me get to the point,” he replied impatiently.
“Alright.”
“When I picked you up in that black field, you already had that letter to the Greenhorns, right?”
“Right.”
“And then you went on your way with Plâton.”
“You were there, you tell me.”
“I would like to know, Atlas, what you want to do.”
“I want to destroy this city.”
“Do you want to destroy this city, or do you feel like it is your destiny to destroy this city, because I am getting the distinct feeling one power or another is trying really hard to pull your strings.
Look, Atlas, I think you are a good man, I can see that you feel all that shit that has been happening around us very deeply. I’d like to think of you as a friend by now.”
“Thank you, I think of you as a friend as well, Ayveron.”
“And as a friend, I am starting to feel a bit worried that you are pretty much doing whatever the next best instance of some metaphysical soul machine wants you to do.” The look in Ayveron’s eyes was strange: worried, yet defiant.
Atlas’s voice underwent a subtle transformation from chatty to dark as he said: “I have been wondering about that myself, actually. Metaphysical soul machines and all, I must say I am not very thrilled about the fact that this city was allowed to exist like this for what I assume was at least over two decades. I must say I take exception to that.”
“So…” Ayveron started, “the city…”
“I’d say a sufficiently large tidal wave should do the trick. I still haven’t fully regained the connection to my sword, so I’ll need a significant boost to make it happen. A really powerful influx of magic.”
“Don’t do that, Atlas…” Now Ayveron took a step back.
“Sharp as ever, I see. And once this city has been washed away, we are going to Borealis-”
“But then, nothing has actually-”
“And put them on trial.”
“Beg your pardon?”
“Borealis. We will put Borealis, or whoever there is responsible for this on trial. This city belongs to them, that makes all of this their responsibility. I am going to put them on trial for crimes against humanity.”
“You can’t put a nation on trial!”
“I am the Lord of Water.”
“I am… ninety-percent sure you still can’t do that…”
“If they claim to be an enlightened society, which, as far as I understand it, they do, they will take responsibility for this. So, are you with me, Ayveron Galamoor?”
“Well, there are still some iffy parts about your current plan of action as far as I am concerned, Atlas. But I do see your point.” He sighed; then turned to the blind woman: “Excuse me, if we could evacuate all of your people before destroying this city-”
“Please,” she replied, interrupting him before he could finish, “you have seen what my brothers and sisters did. Let us die. Please, just let us die… Let it end here…”
His head and shoulders sank down, his figure now that of a man defeated. “Alright, Atlas. Whatever you need.” Ayveron patted his companion on the shoulder and they moved on.

In the end, it took them well over two hours to reach their destination. Time spent exchanging some words about each other’s past, safe for John, who would not speak of what would presumably become their future.
As the rain did not completely stop, except around the little group, the drone units seemed not in any position to bother them due to the extreme acidity of the water, which would likely kill them just like the isotope incubators.
Only when the promised great letters on the front of the building appeared before them did the rain die down. An eerie blue glow not a block away was likely the unintentional beacon of the terrible reactor.
“So, here we are,” Atlas said, inspecting the building in front of them: It reached high up into the sky and had an ominous aura, though everything was still and quiet now. “Strange. The entrance does not seem to be fortified.”
“Why would it be?” The girl asked.
He had no reply to offer.
When they had approached the door, they halted, perplexed: A woman in black rags stood on the other side of the glass, looking at them intently, carrying a suspicious bundle in her arms.
“What… what am I supposed to do now?” Atlas asked uncertainly, looking to Ayveron who lifted his hands like a man trying to prove that he was unarmed and therefore not worth targeting with such a question. Atlas hesitated for a second or two and then knocked at the door timidly. For a moment nothing happened; then one of the woman’s arms moved down and pulled the door open, greeting them with the words: “If you have come for Sagamund Greenhorn, you are quite too late.”
Atlas chewed on his lip for a bit, trying to assess the woman. Her robes looked almost Null-like, though terribly worn, and she had the look of a woman from the Yamato Mountain range, her black hair distinctly out of place. He replied: “We have not. We have come to destroy the heart of the city, is that here?” He could not think of any other question, but still, it made him feel pretty stupid for some reason; to just outright ask in this manner...
She looked up to the ceiling, then back to him, then she mustered the other members of his party: Ayveron who did not quite know what to do with his hands, the blind girl that lay in Atlas’s arms, serenely staring at the sky with glowing blue eyes that could not see the dark and depressing cloud that hung up there, and John, who looked a strange monstrosity by most definitions, and though he had never in any way seemed threatening, he very much appeared as if a suit of armor had been melded with precious few parts of a human man.
“I did not see a heart,” she said slowly, “but you’ll definitely find the city’s brain in there. And besides: if you are looking for a heart in this city, you will likely walk away empty handed. It is the one thing I would not expect to find here.”
“Wait!” It was Ayveron who stepped forward all of a sudden, directly up to the woman, though it was not she he was concerned with: it was the bundle in her arms. “That is a baby! Does it come from this city or did you bring it here?! You do not look like the isotope incubators: no blight, no burns; you came from the outside, did you not? Tell me you didn’t bring a child with you?!”
She took a step back in surprise, but then quietly replied: “It is true, I am only a visitor in this terrible place… both of us are.”
“Fool!” Ayveron cried, making her flinch a bit, but also bringing on a flash of anger to her face that lasted for the mere fraction of a second. “How could you bring a child here?! She won’t survive, even if you leave right now! The radiation is too high, and her body too fragile!”
Now worry overtook her expression. “Radiation? What is that?”
Ayveron punched the glass wall, which thankfully only cracked. Atlas took over the part of explaining: “It is like invisible fire that builds up in the body until it burns from the inside. It is everywhere around us.”
“Not here,” she said. “No magic is near me, and will never be until I permit it.”
“It’s not magic!” Ayveron replied in frustration. “It is like sunlight, only invisible and much more powerful.”
“Will you permit me to touch you both?” Atlas asked. “I believe, I can expel the damage caused to you so far; given you will permit it.”
She mustered the group again but then nodded.
As Atlas made skin contact with her and the babe by touching their foreheads with his hands, the sword extended its healing powers to the both of them and fine steam escaped their pores, clearing out the deadly radiation that had accumulated in their bodies. When it was done, he took away his hands. “There was very little of it in you two. Perhaps your powers do work on the radiation. Or have you just now arrived here?” But his musings did not last for long. “You said something about a brain? I must kill the city before I can destroy it.”
“Kill? Is that why you are here? Who are you?” she wanted to know now.
“This is John, he is a traveler, and this is Ayveron Galamoor, a high technocrat of Altonar and a good friend to me, and in my arms lies the isotope incubator which has lead us to this tall house; I am not sure if those people have names, the grease monkey we met did not have one.”
The woman in his arms whispered: “twenty-seven.”
Atlas tried to remain calm as he continued, though his heart had started racing as his sleeping anger reared: “And I am Atlas Muundir.”
“Atlas… Muundir? The Atlas Muundir?!” she replied with a shocked expression.
“Not anymore. Much has happened to this soul since it took up that name,” Atlas replied, “though I am the Lord of Water. Who are you? And how is it that you are here?”
She sighed and looked up again before she answered: “I am called Nanashi, Nanashi of the Null, and I came here in search of Sagamund Greenhorn, who had confided to me his plans to visit this city. It was my hope he could make this child grow to adulthood quickly, for he had great insight into the way living things work, but I arrived too late. He is already lost, eaten by this horrifying city.”
“Eaten?” Ayveron asked uncomfortably, and then in sudden realization: “The Sagamund Greenhorn?! I thought he died long ago!”
“I told you that he had great insight into the way living things work: He made himself live on for many centuries, it seems. But in the end he was devoured by this city’s thirst for knowledge, just like the people of the city themselves. But why don’t I show you, since you took the time to come here. Follow me.” She turned around and went further inside where she began to climb a long winding staircase that stood still proudly in a now desolate lobby.
Not much could be said about their ascent, only that it was long and tiring, for the building had many stories and their destination was far up.
“I have to ask,” Ayveron suddenly said, turning to Atlas when they stood before a heavy metal door that ominously blocked their path. “Is there any reason you have been singing to yourself again and again since Plâton left? I only ask because you have been doing nothing of the sort before you went to your strange sleep.”
Atlas halted and stared at Ayveron in confusion: “Singing? I?”
“Well, humming, mostly, but sometimes you mutter a stanza or two. I keep hearing something like ‘Forged from glinting silver-souls; and made into a silver house; as bright as one of shining gold; where souls are bought and sold…’. Over and over. Did you hear that on uh… the other side?”
Atlas hairs were standing on end as he was afforded this disturbing revelation. He had been unaware of his humming and he could not remember ever hearing those lines before. He suddenly felt as if a cold presence was just behind him, invisible, yet very close. He wanted to clutch the black pearled device with his hand, sensing that it had a role in all this, but one arm was limp and black and the other held twenty-seven.
“I did not…” he finally said. “I apologize if I rattled you. I will try to contain myself from now on.”
“No, no,” Ayveron said in a placatory tone of voice. “There is no need to stop, I was merely curious, that is all. The lines are a bit unsettling, but I enjoy the melody.”
“Are you done?” Nanashi asked coolly.
“Pardon our banter,” Ayveron said politely.
“Yes, please, open the door,” Atlas added. There were more important things to think about at the moment.
The room behind that door was quite peculiar: thick cables went along the walls and the ground, and devices made with strange technology, as strange as Ayveron’s multi-meter that had thus far very much impressed Atlas, littered the ground. ‘Impressed’, however, was not quite the emotion he felt when looking around here. He was determined though, and following Nanashi’s lead, he arrived at a strange pedestal of metal, cylindrical and flat, with many cables hooked into it. A strange box stood next to it and on top of the pedestal, a cylinder-segment made of glass, filled with a bubbling liquid and what Atlas assumed to be a human brain. Really, it looked quite fascinating, though he lacked the clinical detachment to not find it sickeningly morbid. He suppressed the urge to touch the glass. When his gaze finally turned away from the brain, it was caught by the strange box.
It had a glass panel on its front, which was filled with long lines of text that seemingly moved up to make room for new ones that were being written on the fly, though no visible hand seemed to be writing them, rather they just magically appeared. “What is this?” he said in surprise, and Ayveron who had been wandering about, bowing down, looking up, inspecting everything with insatiable curiosity, came over quickly to see what Atlas had found.
“Oh my, look at that display! How does it work? Little lamps perhaps, fed by signals to form patterns? No… no, I think it uses an electron gun, look at the depth of that box! I have seen those used for oscilloscopes. I read a theoretical paper on using those to generate pictures, but how are the signals computed?”
“Ayveron…” Atlas said dunning.
Ayveron’s gaze wandered to the brain. “Oh… oh, I see, the brain… of course… Perhaps it uses-”
“Ayveron!” Atlas now said more firmly and Ayveron quieted down. “I am sure there will be more than enough technology to admire in Borealis.” Then he turned to Nanashi. “I have trouble understanding this. Is this the brain of a human? Is this city somehow… a human being? Should I just pierce the brain and it will die?”
Nanashi looked at the brain and then at the screen which seemed to display the never-ending ramblings of a mad man. “This is the brain of a man I once met. His name was Sagamund, and he was a true technocrat, mastery over nature and everything.”
“Actually, you mean ‘scientist’, a ‘technocracy’ is more of a form of government,” Ayveron chimed in.
“Let the woman talk, Ayveron!”
Nanashi continued quietly. “He came here in order to find the location of Miyako Fluxum because of something I had told him, and in the process his mind was taken by the city to power their thoughts. This much I could find out by talking to him, for he can hear us in this room and his thoughts fly across that black glass, unfiltered as it seems. But I do not think that… that he has turned evil. There is something strange that interrupts his thoughts from time to time, like another voice in his head that keeps him in check, forcing him to do as the city needs.”
Atlas looked at the brain and back at the screen and inspected the writing more closely:

New faces, facial recognition negative, unmet, threat, dispatching drone units 47 through 68. The lines are iterating in quantum leaps and dance on clumsy, broken feet, when nights were longer it was winter and snow fell past the trees, deeper and deeper, a shift in weather, climate, ice. The price is paid in many years in life eternal ever after, the new batch of isotope incubators will reach maturation in 6233 seconds, the lost batch will be replaced, prime the reactor. We find us leaning left and right, seventeen pilgrims, where are they going, where did they go

“That seems pretty nonsensical to me. Although… There were many isotope incubators that went into the rain and died there. Maybe he was talking about that in the middle part,” Atlas said thoughtfully, “and if I read this correctly, we may have company soon.” He looked back at the brain and said: “Sagamund’s brain, can you shut this city down so I can destroy it?” he asked.
Nanashi and Ayveron were both exchanged a strange look, but he saw no reason not to ask first.

This query has been recognized. Primary protocols must be observed at all times. The seven centimeter intersecting plug connects the Darmstadt-Processor control chain to the data-core interface. The seventeen individual processers monitor protocol vio-

Interrupted.
Suspicious behavior detected in the active thought-process. Queuing Darmstadt-Processors 4 through 10 to initiate Chain-Purger-Algorithm.

“What was that? It just completely changed!” Atlas said in surprise. Also he did not understand the reply at all, only that it seemed to be, in fact, a reply.
Ayveron shoved him out of the way and read the text that was slowly being pushed off the screen by new, less insightful, nonsensical lines that seemed to reflect an eerie sense of bliss. “Those were instructions! That is why he was interrupted! By the gears, of course he is doing as the city wants, don’t you understand?” Ayveron asked in a both excited and disturbed tone.
Atlas looked at the screen and then shook his head. “No. No, I can safely say that I understand nothing at all. I have no idea what is going on.”
Ayveron was already inspecting the brain cylinder while replying: “Borealis sometimes shares outdated research and concept papers with the technocrats of Altonar. While the old faction of the technocrats keeps to itself for the most part, they like to keep up good relations with the less developed technocrats of the Great Land.”
“And this is relevant how?” Atlas asked with a doubtful voice.
Ayveron had by now found a panel in the base of the cylinder and removed it to lay bare strange layers of wire. “I have read many papers on research the technocrats of Borealis have conducted. I was surprised when I read ‘Neurocomputation’ as one of the areas of study on the front of this building, but now it all makes sense: When you calculate something simple, you can just add up in your head, right? Like one plus one? But the more complex a calculation gets, the more you have to rely on calculation tables and formulas, and the longer you need to solve an equation. Well the idea of computation is to have a machine solve the problem for you. The technocrats of Borealis, however, recognized the brain as an already fully developed computation device of extreme complexity and began experimenting on it to harness its power for that purpose, well uh, after already working with resonance computation for a while, actually.”
Atlas raised a brow. “You started that explanation with ‘brains aren’t good enough to calculate complex things on their own’ and ended it with ‘so they used brains’. What, they just cracked peoples’ heads open and fiddled around with their gray matter? No wonder this catastrophe happened!”
“No! They experimented on rats and other laboratory animals. And their earliest and most implemented success was by a neurocomputation professor called Mark Darmstadt, who developed a signal processor and later an operating system designed to work together with the preserved brains of rats.” He pulled out a small metal ball with wires plugged into one side right out of the cabling that ran through the inside of the cylinder and held it up so the others could see. “Here, this is called a Darmstadt Processor. If I read the output on the screen correctly, I am guessing that a series of those are linked with the brain of Sagamund, forcing it to work as the primary processor for this city, because they themselves do not have the capacity to do so on their own.”
“So… we destroy those?” Atlas asked. The explanation was long-winded enough for him to catch up, more or less, but he still wasn’t sure if he had heard correctly.
“Well yes, or I could just unplug them, if you give me a moment.”
Atlas gave him a moment.
As Ayveron plugged out the strange metal casings, the speed at which text appeared on the screen increased more and more, until the last one was unplugged and the only words showing over and over were: ‘What have I done?’
Atlas looked away after a moment and mustered the encased brain: “Make it ready for transport. We need to go to the reactor.”
Ayveron inspected the cylinder for a while and then said: “It may take some time; I don’t want to risk damaging anything essential.”
Atlas nodded. “Very well. In the meantime, Nanashi and I will discuss some things. Like that child for instance. There is something about the nature of her soul I find most familiar… She carries the soul of the Keeper of Lightning.”
Nanashi’s eyes widened. “You can feel that?” she said as if she had been caught.
“I am not the Atlas Muundir the world had come to know, not at all for some time, and still not quite for a short while now, if that makes any sense. My spirit broke itself to expel an evil glimmer from my inner world.” He noticed a hint of terrified comprehension in her expression but continued as though he hadn’t: “Still, I am the Keeper of Water, a soul is a soul, and this one has its task. To me, her presence is as obvious as the air I breathe. And during the ordeal of my wounded existence, I have grown ever more sensitive to the souls around me.
I think, I am beginning to catch up now…” he said, looking from the child to her and back. “The people of this city have been somehow… artificially crafted to serve it. And this child is the Keeper of Lightning… So, you came in search of this human modification technology to make the child into an adult quickly…
For what? To fight in the war?”
Nanashi eyed him warily, but then she sighed and nodded. “Yes. I heard the news about the council of five quite some time ago when I set out with my party from the Black Sanctum. It had crumbled to so few, well, only Lady Din if you think about it.”
Atlas’s eye twitched at the mention of Din. Had it been a mistake to let her go her own way? In the end, he had been more powerless in the realm of the Great Clockwork than he had been even here. Had been. His strength was returning…
“But against this foe we sorely need the power of the Five Keepers, for magic is its ally, and above that: something sinister the likes of which I never saw before.”
Now Atlas nodded: “Yes, I had the most intimate contact with that… stuff. As he is now, this Sagamund will not be able to help you, I think. But surely, the technocrats of Borealis will. I saw great things in Miyako Fluxum, and I expect even more of the fabled last stronghold.”
Nanashi was still eyeing him strangely. “What about you?” she asked then. “Why are you going there? Do you have any idea what is going on in the Great Land? It is all crumbling down now. I am not sure even my mighty brothers can stem this tide. You say you are no longer the Atlas Muundir, but that you are still the Keeper of Water; then why are you not over there leading the war for our side? Or at least joining it.”
Atlas did not reply; he just bit his lip as his expression turned to sorrow and tears welled up in his eyes. Suddenly the weight of the blind woman was too much for his body. He went to his knees awkwardly and set her down by a humming block of machinery while his black right arm hung down lifelessly from his side. He did not stand up again, but just sat there as well, cursing his tears.
“I… I did not mean to…” she said in surprise.
He held up his hand defensively: “A moment please.”
Ayveron had stopped working now and glanced over to Atlas worriedly.
It was true: Atlas should be fighting in the Great Land right now. But could he do anything there? Even in fleeing, the City of Arkatrash had been laid to waste behind him. And before, he had been broken and stitched together with what could only be vile animancy; for what else could the black pearled device be that still dug into his flesh even now? Even when he pulled with all his strength, it would not come loose, and the weight of it was wearing him down. Yes, when he had still been the old Atlas Muundir, it had been the time of his greatest folly to fail the Middle Lands so completely, for as one of the shields and swords of all Aqualon had he been so blinded by friendship that a dark power had risen right behind his back and robbed him of many a dear thing. He had lost so much, including himself. How could he turn back and go to the Great Land now? All water would be at his command in time. Even now he could hear Aalandra more and more clearly by the minute, and was, in turn, heard. But he had forgotten all his spells, his arm was black and dead and he had lost so many memories of the past, some of which, he knew, he would never recover. All he had in the world was the letter to the Greenhorns that the old man of the mountain had given him. The letter, and Plâton’s book; well, that and Ayveron, who had become his dear friend. Perhaps the most precious of all the things he had now.
After a bit, Atlas arose again. “I apologize. For many things. And though the sorrow of my deeds weighs heavy on my heart, I shall not speak of them now.” The sorrows of his deeds… In truth there had only ever been one thing he could not get past: That his old spirit, the man Atlas Muundir, had sacrificed himself. He was the spirit now, the mind, but that old self was one he had been responsible for, as a soul. He should have been his strength; all the strength he ever needed. And he had been too weak. He had not given enough. There was no other reason for his defeat. He was weak, and perhaps nothing in the world could ever make that right again. Still, there were things to say and do now, so he continued:
“No; but I cannot return to the Great Land right now: To tell you the truth, Nanashi of the Null, I have already fought in this war, back when I truly was Atlas Muundir. I fought, and I died, and I will die again if I go now. I possess no power that can rival that of my foes. All I can do now is this: I will complete the task that was given to me by my saviors and hope that some good will come off it.
When that is done, I will find a way to attain the strength I lack. I shall be as strong as Plâton Rai’enjoh, the General of Midas Creek, my dear mentor, nay, I shall surpass him; I owe him that much and will carry on his spirit alongside the one I lost. When this monument to human hubris and the Great Clockwork’s failure has been leveled, I shall walk this world with a smile in my eye and a merry laugh on my lips, and perhaps others will see that being truly strong is merely a question of attitude.” He turned to Ayveron: “At least that is what Plâton made me feel when he laughed at the world. Perhaps you’ll help me spread that feeling.”
Ayveron almost managed a smile, and after having paused his work, he now redoubled his efforts and in time they were able to remove the top of the apparatus, containing the brain and whatever kind of filtration system was being used to oxygenize it.
“What now?” Nanashi asked, staring at Sagamund’s brain as if it was possible to read its thoughts, if only one’s gaze was piercing enough.
Atlas pointed to the south: “We go to the reactor. I have need of it. We will spool it up and have the Great Clockwork do its share of the work. And when I let the ocean take this place, with the people will go all the evil machinery built to manufacture and consume them. This cycle will be broken by me, here, and perhaps then I will finally have brought some good into the world… or at least rid it of some of its evil.” He looked around searching. “Say, Ayveron, do you have any idea how that voice was projected to the incubators?”
Now Ayveron began looking around too. “Well, there must be some sort of communications system linked to speakers, possibly all over the city. Like… ah here, look it is a tonal receiver!” He pointed towards a black bulb on a console-mounted stick.
“I can talk to the city through that?”
“Well, I may have to rewire some things or push some buttons… it will take another moment for me to get my bearings here…”
Atlas nodded and let Ayveron do his work. He walked over to the young woman and woke her gently. “It is time. Before I destroy the city there is something I would like you to do for me.”
She blinked with her blind eyes, and for a moment it almost seemed as if she was looking at him directly.
From the receiver came Ayveron’s voice: “I think I got it!”
Atlas helped the girl up and walked her to the receiver: “All the city will hear us when we speak from here, now that Ayveron has opened this strange channeling device,” he said softly to her and she nodded. “Very well then. I would like for you to sing the last song for your city. The last one of the five that the traveler left with you.”
“What?!” Ayveron yelped in protest.
Atlas lifted his head. “It is alright, my friend. Let her do this last thing for her people.”
She nodded shyly and then stepped up to the receiver, guided by Atlas’s hand. She cleared her throat and then in an untainted, bright voice sang this song:

Shining through the pollution

A rainbow beautifully,
The vibrant colored halo,
That brings on our sweet relief

Will god still take me when
The devil’s done with me?
If I offer my prayer,
Can my sins be washed clean?

Has suffering made us in-
to beings that are unclean?
If we only could find redemption,
And in its wake our souls could be set free…

Will god still take me when,
I drown in apathy?
When horrors hold no place,
In my rotten harmony?

Will god still save me when
The devil’s done with me?
If I offer my prayer,
Can my sins be washed clean?

When she was done, Atlas stepped up, but there were no tears left for him to cry. In the end, Sanatana had been wrong: for Atlas’s wrath had subsided, and his despair had turned to iron-clad resolve. He remembered those words that had been left for him to pass along, words that made far more sense now; so speaking them was what he did, with a stern voice and gleaming eyes. From his mouth to the ears of thousands of isotope incubators, grease monkeys, and even the drone units of which he had only heard so far: “Citizens of Rim City, hear me. I am Atlas Muundir, Keeper of the Water of this world, and a former magus. I came to your city as a traveler, but I will leave it as your destroyer. I cannot make any of you anew, nor can I change this city or heal your wounds. I can only bury it and with it each and every one of you. All I can and will do is to set your souls free.” He paused for a moment. “But if truly you worry that your god will not take your soul onto him, I have a message for you from the Great Clockwork that permeates the universe: ‘I am not god, but I will gladly take you all when you are gone. You will find redemption in me, and you will be clean of your sins.’” And with that, Atlas lifted the blind woman of her feet to carry her once more and left for the stairs.
Ayveron and Nanashi exchanged a brief look and then followed him. The descent was difficult yet again. As they moved down, noises came from below, and pale humans with what appeared to be firearms came to meet them. The weapons had slightly elongated shafts and were functionally designed, far more advanced looking than what Atlas had encountered in his life before the fall. Grafted onto the back of their skulls was a small metal part-sphere with tendrils digging into their heads. A part-sphere looking like those Ayveron had identified as Darmstadt Processors. The eyes of the drone units were bereft of life and intellect, it seemed, and it was as if they were acting on instinct alone when they rose to meet them. Atlas had no hand free to draw Aalandra, and he was in front of the others blocking their way. So in his mind he spoke a prayer, and moisture from the air formed into razor-sharp discs, almost too thin to be noticed by the naked eye, and they cut them all to shreds. More and more kept coming, twenty-one in total, and as the frontrunners were sliced and diced, their lifeless blood turned into more weapons as it moved to the side and ahead, keeping the stairs clean so Atlas would not slip. He felt Ayveron digging his fingers into his shoulders, though it seemed to Atlas he was not protesting but seeking reassurance.
“What are those noises?” the blind woman asked.
“Nothing of consequence,” Atlas replied reassuringly.
In time they reached the ground floor again and moved to the reactor building not far away. It had large rectangular openings for the tall vehicles to fit into and had a square shape at its base, which was perhaps four hundred meters long on either side. After rising up for about three meters, it turned circular, ending in a transparent dome. Mounted on tall metal frames that stood like barren trees around it, thick cables spread out into the city like necrotic veins.
“Leave me here, please,” the blind woman said.
Atlas stopped in front of the building wall. “Here?”
“I do not want to go back inside that place. Besides, I need to be here if I want to go with the others…”
Atlas let her down gently. “Alright. Take a rest. We won’t be far away.”
To his surprise, John stepped in at that moment. “I’ll stay with her. She kept me company before, I should return the favor. Plus, my internal meters are detecting some really problematic emissions from this building, I shouldn’t go further in, if I don’t want to be flung face first into yesteryear’s left butt cheek.” Somehow his unnatural, artificial voice made this statement sound funnier to Atlas instead of less so. Perhaps because the absurdity added to it.
Ayveron nodded to the creature: “You’ll see us soon.”
“And you-” John paused, “Well, relatively speaking. Yeah, soon I think.” He sat down next to the woman.
Nanashi gave Atlas and Ayveron a glance. “Wha- who is this again?”
Atlas moved on to what seemed to be a heavy, stone door, worked skillfully to fit into the surrounding wall and inspected it closely.
Behind him, Ayveron said: “That’s John, he’s a time traveling historian, I think. We met him once before in the Saltplains.”
Nanashi muttered something like: “Keepers, a race of kindling, brains in a jar, and time travelers. What’s next?”
It took a couple of precise but otherwise effortless cuts with Aalandra to destroy the locking mechanism on this door as well, but all three had to push together to open it. Though hung on well-oiled hinges, the stone door was surprisingly thick and there was quite a bit of inertia to overcome. As they walked down a broad corridor lit with the familiar glary, tubular lights, Atlas soon found a building plan framed on a wall along the way. Conferring with Ayveron, they figured out which path to take to the main chamber of the reactor building where the reactor was supposedly mounted.
“I’ll likely need you to start the thing up,” Atlas noted calmly.
Ayveron’s footsteps behind him suddenly halted. “No!”
“I doubt it will be as easy as pulling a lever, Ayveron. I do not have the expertise to quickly identify the components we need to work and how to work them.”
“So you want me to turn on the soul torture chamber?! Anything else, need some thumb screws tacked onto a child or something? Got a bag of kittens that needs drowning? Sure, just ask Ayveron, he won’t mind!”
Atlas sighed. “If you know of another way to level this place, tell me now. I need the energy from this reactor. That or a month or two to recuperate. If the technocrats have at least tried to uphold the Null Concord, this whole debacle here notwithstanding, they won’t have any technological weapons of mass destruction lying around.”
“Well,” Ayveron replied defiantly, “perhaps I am not so happy about the whole city-wiping-out in general. What, was Arkatrash not enough, we gotta one-up that?!”
“Careful,” Atlas said in a quiet tone. His shoulders suddenly tense. Though only for a moment, then they slackened and he sighed. “Ayveron, I am sorry that this is our situation. But think about it: How sure can we be that removing Sagamund’s brain has stopped the city for good? The woman told us it can regenerate its buildings somehow, right? And what did it do before it had Sagamund’s brain? Apparently that came in fairly recently. We are still not in the clear, and neither are the people here. They have suffered enough. They deserve that this torture comes to an end. Please, help me!”
Nanashi chimed in: “So, would any of you care to tell me what all this talk of soul torture is about?”
“Atlas wishes to start the reactor and use whatever comes out of the Great Clockwork as magical energy to submerge the city with a tidal wave,” Ayveron explained. He was very exactly right, without ever having been told the actual plan.
“And the soul torture?” she harped on, her almond-shaped, dark-brown eyes narrowing.
“I mean, you muttered it earlier, the people here are kindling for the city. By some manner of process they are used to draw that energy out of the Great Clockwork. It happened once when we were quite some distance away from here and even that far away the experience was very unpleasant. I assume the reactor breaks open their inner gates or something like that. It would explain the spellblight they contract during the process.” Conjecture seemed to calm him down a little.
“That is…” she was grasping for the words. Then a shadow passed over her face and she went quiet for a moment, before saying: “I have no judgement to offer. I’ve done worse.”
The men did not ask any pointed questions then, but their discussion continued for quite some time as they passed deeper into the bowels of the reactor building. Finally, they reached the reactor hall, which was lit in a piercing blue light from glowing stripes along all edges of the circular room. Above them was the transparent dome with many struts that faceted the material, and it revealed to them the dark clouds above Rim City, now a black blanket that suppressed even the stars of the night sky. During their passage from the institute to this hall, the final rays of sunlight had faded away. Now, it was time for a second sun rise. A crueler sun.
Along the circular wall stood five vats with briny liquid inside, and over them loomed closed tanks, about the size of one cylindrical coffin, held up by mechanical arms, clearly taken out of a chamber in the wall through which they could have fit like a chute. It was all too clear to Atlas what was inside.
A window was worked into the upper part of one side of the wall, and behind it was what might have been the control room as strange consoles lined it, barely visible through the slightly reflective, transparent sheet. Cables were strewn all about, and, oddly enough, runes and mandalas of sorts that reminded Atlas of Middlish spell ink mandalas were painted onto the vats.
Their discussions, in the end, had concluded with Atlas convincing a still reluctant Ayveron to assist him, though Ayveron had made much of the winning argument himself: This city was so radioactive that the time it would take Borealis to mount and execute a proper relief effort would, in the end, very likely exceed the life span of the majority of remaining inhabitants, who would, in addition to their painful existences, from now on also no longer have any purpose in life, forced on them or not. The math was crueler than Atlas could have ever hoped or feared to be himself, and perhaps that was exactly the reason this city had become what it had become. The math of it.
As Ayveron went out of the room again to look for a way to access the control room, Nanashi filled Atlas in on the things she had learned in the institute when trying to reason with Sagamund’s brain. Apparently, she had found a sort of log, printed on paper, which she handed over for Atlas’s inspection. It started with the statement:
The primary protocols have been absolute since the first days: Rim City has to facilitate trade between Borealis and the world at maximum efficiency.
And turned progressively darker from that point on. After a moment of skimming the document, he handed it back to her. “Hold on tightly to that. We will need it when we make our case against Borealis.”
“We are making a case against them?” she inquired doubtfully.
“Are you alright with forgetting what you have seen here?”
“No, but… There is a war going on right now, and we need them.”
“Then I would like to establish what they owe to the world first.” His visage was stern when he said this and though doubt had been his faithful companion since the accursed black-pearled contraption had been strapped to his shoulder, that companion had no sway over him in this moment. Someone would pay for all this, of that he would make certain. Someone would pay.

Forged from glinting silver-souls;
and made into a silver house;
as bright as one of shining gold;
where souls are bought and sold

And in the fabric, tiny holes
Through which the light may rouse
The silver-souls will sing for me
And be my house eternally…

He paused. Had he heard that song in his head, or had he sung it himself?
“That is a lovely melody. Where is that song from?” Nanashi inquired.
Drat.
She was cradling the little girl in her arms, trying to keep her calm. Surprisingly, little Kathlyn, as Nanashi had apparently named the girl after the former person to be inhabited by its soul, had been very quiet and seemingly content for as long as Atlas had seen her. In a way, he was envious of her for it. He himself had wanted to cry half the time he had spent in this gears-forsaken city.
“I don’t know where it is from. I have never heard it before in my life.”
“You perform it rather well, though,” she noted with a raised brow.
Atlas didn’t have the leisure to engage her anymore. Ayveron had knocked against the window and given him a thumbs-up sign. Presumably, the machine was about to start. He would have to focus and dig deep to make it work to his advantage.
While he wasn’t very clear on the details, he was fairly confident that the activation of the reactor would tear open several gates at once and have magic flood out of the Great Clockwork and into this world, where it could be harnessed by the city. However, with him here, he would try to attract that power to himself, using his own gate and that of Aalandra as a lightning rod to charge the sword. Even with the damaged and inefficient connection between the trinity of him, the sword, and the ur-soul of water, this much raw energy from the Great Clockwork itself should bring him at least close to his former power for a limited time.
Of course, there were a few unknown variables in the mix, and he wasn’t sure if there wouldn’t be risk factors he hadn’t accounted for, but when was the situation ever ideal when the stakes were high?
“Stay close to me now,” he said calmly to Nanashi. “And hold her fast. This next part will be very unpleasant, but I will keep you both safe.”
She stepped closer.
He lifted his thumb towards the window and nodded once. Then he drew the sword from his back, and planted it tip-first several inches deep into the ground, holding the handle tightly, trying to reach out into that empty mindspace where the great gate inside of him lay.
Lights in the control room started blinking, and the sound of machinery that was being set into motion began filling the hall, echoing off the round walls. The mechanic arms began moving, and they dunked the cylinders into the vats, brine spilling over and onto the floor, glowing blue; whether of its own power or due to the blue lights, Atlas could not tell.
Several loud clicks echoed through the room as well, and a whine that slowly built up in pitch and amplitude was starting to fill it up, causing Atlas’s bones to vibrate.
He heard crackling, and sparks and light arcs started flittering around the vats sporadically as the mandala and rune work lit up in an ominous green. Then, as if a sudden switch had been flipped to ‘on’, it was as bright as day, with overwhelming light shining out of the thin rim of brine within the vats. From the cylinders, barely human screams emerged, joining the cacophony of roaring machinery to form a rending chorus of pain.
The floodgates opened, and he felt the gears all around him, turning and churning, pouring might into the room. Atlas opened himself to that might and let it flow into him, absorbing it, funneling it into the sword.
In his hand, Aalandra began to glow, red at first, then yellow, then almost pure white, as if it was being heated in the most powerful magic furnaces of Lumina Aka. He screamed then, and though he could not hear Nanashi, he felt one of her hands clawing into his bent back. His screams turned into the laughter, as the horror around him faded from his perception and was supplanted by the ephemeral elation of power overflowing. He ripped the sword from the ground and lifted it up, and he did not offer a silent prayer to all the water in the world, but screamed it: “Rise, my friend! Rise up high!”
The ground shook violently, and the light inside the reactor chamber faded away as the reactor spooled down. But Aalandra shone all the brighter, as if the power of the Great Clockwork was shining out of the strong and mysterious alloy of its blade. And the shaking did not cease but increase, and the building sank briefly as its base was cracked, and then unfathomable masses of groundwater broke out of the floor like a violent geyser, gathering below Atlas’s feet, forming a platform of ice for him to stand on, which shot towards the dome. More ice rose to encase him, Nanashi, and Kathlyn, and like a frozen egg, they crashed through the ceiling and rose high into the sky on a column of water. A second egg shot into the column, and Ayveron was catapulted onto their platform, rising through the hard ice that melted to greet him and hardened to keep him as the egg shell crumbled away, letting in the cold night air. The dark cloud above Rim City had utterly dissipated, swept away by Atlas’s deep desire to see the stars, and to show them, one last time, to the citizens of the city below. As he overlooked Rim City and the surrounding lands of Guantil-ya, he spotted a long, wide bridge that led away due south, over the water, and Atlas suspected it to be the path to the train that the little grease monkey had spoken of. He made a note of it so that it would not be washed away in the cataclysm he was about to summon.
Looking down, the city presented a marvelous sight, and Atlas stood in awe at the monumental achievement and the potential that human beings could fulfil without ever even resorting to magic; for despite all its horrific modifications, Atlas was certain that the larger part of the city had been constructed by the technocrats who had lived here before its fall. And what things they had built: great skyscrapers that rose from the land like mighty mountains, engulfed by stony streams of black on which strange vehicles could drive swiftly, and on which a man might walk without tiring as quickly as he would on treacherous ground. And yet stranger, more fascinating buildings he could behold from here: domes and arenas, and buildings that seemed themselves to be some form of machinery. And all this he would now lay low.
But his resolve held firm, and he merely allowed himself to take in this view for a moment; to honor its architects by committing to memory the image of their great legacy. “Truly the mages are a dying breed and do not even know it if this is but the tip of Borealis’ ingenuity,” he said solemnly.
But Ayveron and Nanashi remained silent, both clutching Plâton’s old cloak around Atlas’s shoulders for purchase as they seemingly floated on a thin disk of ice, hundreds of meters above the ground.
Atlas, on the other hand, was content; more than content. And it was not merely the power that was still pulsing inside of him, ready to burst forth in one mighty blow: Each breath of icy air he took in seemed to extend through every single capillary in his body, and his sight was clear and focused, as if no detail could escape his eyes. There was a tingling in his hand as he firmly gripped the hilt of the shining sword, and it became clearer and clearer now that the tide was rising, for soon the sea swallowed up the bridge and the shore, and continued to rise still. Already, the waves were heeding his call, creeping, yet noticeable, for soon Ayveron pointed and shouted; but his voice seemed far away, for Atlas now beheld only himself, the sword, and the sea.
For a while it just seemed that the waters would rise endlessly, seeking to bury even the skyscrapers, but then a great tidal wave, even higher than those monolithic pillars rushed towards them from all sides. It was only now that Atlas finally felt free, for literally this was his element, and the closer it came to him, the more he felt a serene calm come over him, washing away his sorrow and drowning his anxiety. And even though the power he had borrowed from the Great Clockwork was waning already, he felt no loss with its diminishing.
And it was then that he could hear the sword again. But it was not the grief struck wailing from before, no, it was a deep, resounding voice, like the song of the whale, echoing through the land and the sea, joyful and mighty, shaking the bones of those who heard it. As it sang, the spectacle culminated in white clouds swimming around the air in great, fish-like shapes and the great tsunami bearing down on the buildings below them, crushing all to rubble, swirling about violently before freezing over in an almost petal-like shape.
For a moment, the giant iceberg that had been the entire southern tip of the great island of Guantil-ya stood like a stoic flower of ice in the now calming sea. Then, Atlas rammed the sword into the floe beneath his feet, which was connected to the ice below through the now also frozen geyser, and a deafening cracking and moaning sounded like the roar of a hundred thunderstorms, before the ice collapsed into many, many pieces, ensuring that all rubble was broken and nothing but frozen dust remained of the city, while the geyser renewed itself to keep them aloft, though slowly lowering them now, until they were floating in the midst of a calm sea with nothing but horizon far and wide; except for the south, where the battered remains of a bridge could again be seen, more than half of which had been drowned with the city.
Atlas turned to his companions and watched their faces, but he could not see any judgment in them, nor fear; and it filled him with a great measure of relief. Though certainly did he deserve to be hated now, did he not?
Then, Nanashi was struck by lightning, and lay smoldering on the ground as a bronzed bare foot stepped on her back.


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