Atlas [ Chapter 2a ]
“So, where are we going exactly?” Atlas inquired.
He still needed the help of the young man calling himself Ayveron Galamoor, who had picked Atlas up when he had woken.
Plâton pointed towards the sinking sun. “When thunder and lightning rise from the ground, we will head for the eye of the storm,” he explained, sounding as jolly as ever.
“What by the three truths is that supposed to mean? I may not be quite of this world, but I know that thunder and lightning come from the…” but Atlas spoke no further when the ground began to quake and tremble as if a beast of terrible size was waking up beneath it und a light far away started to stretch out like a distorted finger, arcing across the ground.
Blue and purple it was, truly like lightning, and it buzzed like so many insects while the ground shook and roared like thunder. Young Ayveron had stopped and stared in astonishment at the strikes of lightning that now began to multiply and creep across the ground like a spider’s legs. One passed through the two of them and filled Atlas with a most curious sensation. He instinctively grabbed for his heart and gasped, but there was no pain and no apparent damage. “What in… I am unharmed? What is this?” he asked with a disturbed voice.
Ayveron seemed to be occupied with other thoughts entirely as he eyed the phenomenon in awe: “Is this artificial, natural, or magical? To generate such staggering amounts of electric energy… Surely it could not be…” He seemed too caught up in his thoughts to fully articulate them as they raced through his mind, but Atlas had trouble paying any attention to him since he felt like he was standing inside a raging storm cloud about to be torn to shreds.
Plâton laughed: “It comes from far over there, do you see? Do not worry about the lightning; the small particles of air just get excited about all the attention; your body is far too big to be impressed by such displays. And you, boy, you are quite right in your unspoken assumption: this is no magic, it is technology - well, most of it anyways. The last stronghold may be the capital of all technocracy, but if it is, then this here is its stern competition: Miyako Fluxum.”
Ayveron gasped: “The moving city! It cannot be! I… I heard so many tales and, and… But why should they help us get to the last stronghold? They hate that place!” he said in sudden realization, “Stern competition indeed!”
“Aye, they do not have much love for Borealis. The high technocrats of the order have turned their backs on Miyako Fluxum. However, this service they shan’t do for Borealis, but for me.”
Atlas only understood half of what the two were talking about. While he had known many places from when he was still whole, his death had made it very difficult for him to access the memories the real Atlas had left him. They were fuzzy and distorted at best, and many things he had but forgotten. The thing that had become the person; he had only ever followed the life of Atlas through a milky veil, peering in from time to time, content to sleep and only wake when great need was at hand - when the old Atlas needed his strength. Now he no longer had command of all the water in the world, even though the sword still hung from his back undamaged, and he could not perform any feat of magic - not that Atlas had truly been a magus before, but at least he had had his moments.
They moved quickly now and Plâton kept urging them on. A small chain of mountains loomed in the distance, and the grass lands were illuminated intermittently by lightning strikes. A lone, white horse galloped away further off, fleeing the direction towards which their party was now converging on. Atlas could only assume that those who Plâton called ‘the hounds’ were closing in after them, though Atlas himself had never laid eyes upon his pursuers.
The quaking of the ground grew all the more fierce the closer they got to the center of the strange storm, and lightning kept passing through them increasingly often, almost as if they were attracting it. Every time it left Atlas with a queer sensation in his chest and especially his gut, but he had not eaten in what seemed like an eternity, so there was nothing to retch up. It did however remind him that he was very hungry - and thirsty as well. What a strange moment to think about such a mundane thing.
When they came to a halt, the intensity of the lightning strikes seemed to climax suddenly, and they bent upwards until they connected the heavens and the earth like real lightning, and then the storm was gone.
The ground quaked no more and the lightning had ceased. Plâton lifted a booted foot and stomped on the ground thrice, right where he stood. The sound that came was strange, as if there was a cavern made of metal underneath the grass, which apparently really was the case because a hatch suddenly opened in front of them and revealed a metal stairway that would lead the three underground. “Oh my,” Ayveron said as he stared down the black mouth of the man-made cave.
The way to the city was surprisingly long and winding, a journey, really, in its own right. They went down a long staircase along a passage lit by strange, white, glowing crystals and many more staircases and passages until they were deep underground; storming this city would be impossible for any army, and the passages were cleverly winding, which would make it difficult for earth mages to locate the city proper.
“Those lights, are they powered with electric energy?” Ayveron asked with business-like curiosity.
Plâton looked up at the crystals as they moved along another long passage. “What makes you say that?” he asked with a hint of interest.
Ayveron rubbed his hands against each other, “There are many lights down here, and yet it is surprisingly cold; if the lights were warm lights such as fire, they should heat these passages. We use electricity in Altonar, but the light we produce seems warmer than this, so on the whole I am unsure. That is why I ask.”
“You certainly are a smart one, but shouldn’t you be more puzzled about it being so cold this deep down? The deeper we go the warmer it should get. They say the core of Aqualon is molten metal and stone, and at any rate: The ground in these lands is not frozen; there is really no reason for the temperature to fall off here. Therein lies your answer: these aren’t lamps, they are shards of ice - true ice. It is a form of living ice that stays frozen forever,” Plâton explained.
“That’s not scientifically possible… So they must be magical after all,” Ayveron noted with a certain disappointment in his voice.
“What’s the matter, are you disappointed to see magic in a city of technocracy? You are not quite correct though. Miyako Fluxum was shunned by the last stronghold because they allow research in the field of technamagix which implements magical catalysis to avoid certain restrictions to technology. True ice as you see here follows the law of power transmutation, one of the laws of gyrometrics. The shards endlessly catalyze all surrounding warmth and transmute the heat energy into light, preventing them from melting. Creating true ice is a feat of both crystalytics and technamagix that is performed here in Miyako Fluxum,” Plâton explained. “If the heat of the earth around us would not feed these passages, the true ice would be dark and the temperature here would be freezing.”
Ayveron listened with great interest and even Atlas who knew almost nothing about technocracy - or was the term just science? - was enticed by Plâton’s tale. “I did not know that this level of energy transmutation was possible,” Ayveron admitted. “There is no heat sink anywhere in these walls, is there?”
Plâton shrugged his shoulders, “I am not a technocrat, just someone who has been around. Do you know of these things, boy?” he asked in a tone of voice that somewhat suggested that he knew everything there was to know about Ayveron Galamoor. It was a peculiar quality that the strange man seemed to have about him, as if he was almost all-knowing or all-aware.
“I am the former chairman of the technocratic council of Altonar. I possess the 4th degree of mastery in electrical and theoretical gyrometrics as well as the 7th in pyrotechnology,” he recited not without pride. “Though I do not build fireworks and bombs anymore. I am into…” he smacked his lips when a brief delightful thought seemed to pass his mind, “something new.”
Atlas did not understand all the titles but they did seem impressive to him which kind of made him feel like he should clap. He had already raised his hands when he thought better of it after all, as something told him it might be misconstrued, even though he did not know where that notion came from. Plâton laughed. “Quite the learned gear-rat we have here, eh? What brings you to carry a broken man away from a bunch of monsters?” he inquired.
Ayveron winced at the notion, as if he just realized that that was exactly what he was doing. “I… I am on a pilgrimage to the last stronghold. I want to purchase an apprenticeship and become one of the order of technocrats there. I just chanced upon Atlas here and he looked like he needed help and he said he was going to the last stronghold too and so I thought I should help him and we walked and saw you on that stone.” Ayveron seemed to almost stumble over his own words as they came gushing from him like something had torn them loose.
Plâton kept laughing through the whole outburst. “You sure have bad luck. Or good luck. The clockwork seems to have brought the two of you together with all the subtlety of a writer pasting lose leafs of story together. I guess what you make of it depends on the angle from which you view your own situation. Either way you seem to have an abundance of luck, boy, whatever kind of luck it may be.
The man you are helping here reeks of war like no man I have ever seen before save the mirror. One day tens of thousands will fight at his side or his command, of that I am sure, and you seem to be on the best way to become one of them.”
Atlas did not understand how Plâton could look so amused the entire time; were they not in some sort of mortal danger? But that did not seem to faze the red haired stranger in the least. He simply took out his elegant pipe and began chewing on it, although he didn’t seem to want to light it in here. Ayveron on the other hand had become even paler than before and he had been of fair complexion to begin with. His hair was chestnut and his eyes darker still, all just serving to underline his paleness. Atlas wagered that a few weeks of wandering under the sun would change that quickly enough, but then again, he did not know how far Altonar was from here. Perhaps Ayveron had traveled far already before he had met Atlas in that blackened field.
When they had walked the last passage, the city stretched out before them at last. It was a sight to behold and took their breath away: The deep underground there was a perfectly egg-shaped cavity of tremendous size. On a total of six layers there were five intersecting walkways of stone, which met in the center of the cavity where they did not actually cross, but rather lead onto another circular walkway with a wide hole in the middle. A bright, humming ray of warm, yellow light filled that hole on every layer and went straight from ceiling to ground. On the underside of every layer’s center were strange, large copper pipes and the center layer had metal arms, crackling with lightning, attached to the bottom of its intersecting ring, right where the pillar of light formed a rotating sphere that was now red, now yellow, now orange, now amber, ever changing and crackling here and there with lightning, appearing like a small, tamed sun in the center of the city.
The walkways themselves led to more walkway-rings that were large and built into the inner walls of the cavity, going all the way around on all the six layers. There the walls would show great holes into which the city had been built: houses over houses, many built most practically and fitting neatly into the chasms, but some seemed right out strange with buzzing gears poking out of them and the most outlandish contraptions stuck to every other one.
And the sounds! There was the noise of busy people walking and talking, the noises of machinery working and of small explosions here and there. The city was huge indeed; even in the glimpses of Atlas’s past memory he did not recall ever seeing a city larger than Miyako Fluxum appeared to be, except perhaps Aquaris; though he suspected that his fondness for that city was skewing his perception. He had always been able to see the things the old Atlas had loved far clearer through the milky veil. Then again, the odd perspective of the cavity might have also played tricks on his perception of Miyako Fluxum. If he was forced to live on, he should very much like to make a proper comparison one day.
The passage they had walked to enter the city proper had led them to an inconspicuous part of one of the outer rings; it appeared to be on the fourth layer. On the opposite side they could see a long, large hall carved into the wall of the cavity. There were only large buildings and lots of small stands over there with many people going about their business. It looked like a marketplace of sorts, and indeed there were goods being transported to that place, but they were not transported by people but rather by carts on rails! Some form of automation seemed to move them from one point to another since they came out of different hallways throughout the outer ring. Atlas could not say if they came from different layers also, but he saw no method of traveling from one layer to another. Surely it had to be done somewhere in the halls and hallways.
In the end it was all too much to take in at once for him and his gaze kept wandering to that great ray of light and the small sun in its center. And even that he could not do for too long at a time, for the light grew blinding after a while.
Ayveron was just standing there with his mouth as wide open as a barn door and his eyes glimmering with the ten thousand questions on his lips as his grasp on Atlas’s shoulder became painfully tight, no doubt from excitement. Plâton was laughing again. He always seemed to be laughing, though Atlas never understood why. Perhaps it confused him because his soul seemed so weary and sad, for, though being clumsy at reading other people’s faces and words at the moment, Atlas could see things that were obscured to most the way he was now.
Before the three of them could truly step in, they saw a delegation heading their way. Well, there were only three people, just enough to match their party, but they were clearly walking towards them. The man in the middle had a solemn manner about him. He had a jaw broad like an anvil and very short hair as if he shaved it all away every fortnight. His gray garb was spotted with black oil here and there and made him look like a man who worked with machinery all day. Besides him walked an old man with wispy, white hair and a full, gray beard. He wore a robe with a hundred gears or more painted onto it. His hands seemed a bit shaky as he held them awkwardly at his sides. The third was a woman. She had a fairly round bottom and blue eyes like diamonds, bright and sharp. Her hair was shaggy and brown and her face stained with dust and dirt but lit up by a hearty smile.
They stopped when they stood before the party. Plâton grinned with white teeth that for some reason made Atlas think of a dangerous wild beast, maybe because he appeared to have more pronounced cuspids than seemed average to him, just a bit though. “Archibald, my boy! How is life treating you?” Plâton said with a jovial voice, still grinning, “And you, Lynis, beautiful as ever! It is outstanding to see you too, old Tim, how fares the research?”
Both the old man and the woman seemed about to comment on that, but the one Plâton had addressed as ‘Archibald’ stepped forward and spoke up before they could start: “General Rai’enjoh, I told you a long time ago that the city will not take part in any war. You should not have summoned us here; Midas Creek is yours to defend.” His voice seemed grave.
Plâton laughed. “Your bearings must be way off. We stand apart quite a bit from good old Midas Creek; why, the Golden Sands don’t even stretch this far, though I will grant you it’s a brief journey for me. Heh, I haven’t come because I want you to fight or anything like that, I am just here to collect the debt you owe me,” he said, his grin growing wider. Clearly there was some sort of joke at work that was going over Atlas’s and, as far as his dumbfounded look suggested, Ayveron’s head.
Lynis began to laugh, her voice ringing bright like chimes. Archibald seemed incredulous. “The de… the debt I owe you? You mean… dinner?”
Plâton joined in the laughter now. “Quite so! Fourteen years ago I took you to Midas Creek and invited you to sup with me and my wife. You ate well and promised I should sup with you in your halls one day in kind,” Plâton recounted.
Ayveron and Atlas exchanged a brief look and then stared at Plâton as incredulous as Archibald had. This had to be some sort of jape. The man had dragged them here and called the entire city to move to them just for dinner? It seemed ridiculous. Archibald seemed just as stunned by the request. “You are serious? You called us here because you wanted to have dinner with me? Every jump drains our batteries, especially one this far! We thought you were in mortal peril or had grave news that could not wait!”
Plâton just continued grinning flagrantly. “Well, if that is what you desire over my company, I am quite unfortunately capable of providing both,” he said, “and I would hope your batteries do not take too long to recharge. We won’t have more than a few hours before several guardians come and tear this place apart. So,” he clapped his hands together and rubbed them in anticipation, “what will we be eating today? I’m starving.”
Archibald stomped his foot like an impatient child. “You are a storm on legs, you know that, Plâton Rai’enjoh?! Every time I have dealings with you, there is mayhem and disaster!”
Plâton winked at him with a smile that almost hinted at the sadness Atlas had sensed before. “I am strong. Strength is often something required when mayhem and disaster wreak havoc. It is the way of things and the reason those things seem to agree so well with my presence.”
Archibald peered at Plâton as if he wanted to impale him with his intensifying stare and there was a brief silence that seemed to stretch on forever. Finally it was broken by the old man called Tim: “We shall have jump capacity again in one hour. And for not more than roughly seventy kilometers I’d say. It is good to see you again, old friend. And I am sure Archibald is just trying to express how happy he is about your visit.”
Plâton nodded in agreement. Lynis also spoke, “We’ll have stew with chicken and goat’s milk. Strong boys need rich food,” she said with a smirk.
Plâton seemed to be considerably amused by somehow being included in the ‘boys’ part of her statement, but rather than mention it, he waved Atlas and Ayveron to follow him, and then followed Lynis and old Tim in turn. Grunting, Archibald turned as well and they walked along the outer ring. As they came past a strange terminal, the old man stopped and pressed a button. There was a shrill siren calling attention for a few seconds, and then the voice of a woman seemed to come from the walls, sounding strangely metallic: “For the purpose of energy augmentation, non-essential jump travel is to be suspended until the next city-wide jump has occurred. Until then all citizens are urged to use the rail-cabins instead.” After a brief moment of silence during which only the humming of the great ray of light and the intermittent crackling of electricity at its center could be heard throughout the city, the previous noises pushed the silence away once again.
“Wait, could anyone just push that button and make that happen?” Ayveron inquired hesitantly.
Old Tim winked at him. “No.”
The six went on after that and entered one of those so-called ‘rail-cabins’ to get to the highest of the six layers. It was a small room, more like a closet really, and as soon as Archibald closed the grate before them, the room started to move upwards as if someone was pulling it up, slowly at first, but gradually getting faster. In no time at all they had reached the top layer, but not before Atlas had the chance to get an even better view of the city as they moved and while they rode up, Archibald broke the silence with a forced casualness in his tone: “So, guardians you say…”
For the first time, just in the corner of Atlas’s field of vision, he could see Plâton’s smile grow dim and his brow furl in more than ponderous thought.