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A dust storm had erupted out of thin air. The gale was whistling so heavy it felt like sandpaper across my face. I could not see two feet in front of me as I wrestled against the roar that had come upon us so abruptly. “I can’t go on like this.” I howled to Vanity as I choked on the ferocious storm.
“There is nowhere to stop. We press forward.” Vanity hollered over the primal howl of nature’s wrath. The buildings that once stood here are now decayed and rounded bodies. Stubs that remained out of the ground, the dead, most with expressions of immediate dread, a few animals carcases. It was a graveyard melted to the ground. A simple kiss of nuclear power must have fluttered through this city in its blatant embrace, at the tail end of its fury. In the streets are tank like war machines acting as boundaries, obstacles, things in the way. They too were nothing better than dead to remind someone of a vicious battle concluded with a single blast.
The sand barraged my face as I yelped “I can’t open my eyes.” That retched sand was so awful. Raising my arms to try and block my face did little to stop the sting. There was nothing I could do to mitigate its blow. A shadow settled over me and the sand stopped. I peeked to look at the large boney timbers of Vanity’s wings. “Thank you.” The gesture of tenderness moved me.
We carried on like this for another hour and the surface storm showed no trace of giving in. “Prina, up ahead, I think there is some shelter. I am picking up readings of several biological life forms and they appear to be human.”
“Biological readings?” I recall thinking to myself. “Is it safe?” I inquired, wishing for a clear answer.
“Not sure, but if we don’t get out of this storm, it’s going to rip us apart. We got to take the risk. It is the only hope to find shelter.” she was right. As much as I loathed to place myself in peril again if I didn’t we both might die out here.
“Ok, its worth a try, but the idea of running into another nightmare again does not sit well with me.”
We continued marching forward through the turbulent earth. “Dont worry I will protect you.” claimed as she sheltered me from the assault.
The fangs of the aged showed no signs of letting up. The sand went from somewhat abrasive to flat out being painful as it split my skin raw. It clattered and thrashed against me. “Up ahead.” Velora yelled. I tried my best, but all I could make out were some shadowed objects; a wall? As we approached, however, it revealed itself. Massive, like an aircraft carrier, but not. It was motionless, but its enormous wheels look as though it could move. Tank treads were around the twirls of the grand warship. Silver stripes lined its rich blue enamel, where there was paint at least. Its timeworn paint was scrapped off and rust had developed on the alloy. It surely was not composed of nano machines, whatever it was.
“Wo.” is all I could sputter out. The thing absolutely dwarfed us. “What is?”
“An Almighter, maskers drive them.”
“Maskers, they veil themselves to outsiders.” stating such a straightforward thing made me feel foolish, but she continued. “They should be okay for us to approach.” It was then I spotted a few people. They were thoroughly hidden in cloth from head to toe, aside from the hood covering their masks. They were carrying something that looked like spears. As we came near, the “Maskers” would raise up the weapons in the air.
I cuddled up next to Velora’s femur. She had to watch her step, or rather I had to take care of hers, as she offered little to no mind to me adhering to her like a child. I hid myself from view behind the ram’s scalp. “Velora, they look violent.” I spoke. She caressed me on the head as if to assure me.
“They are not; they’re pilgrims. Those masks are to hide their deformities from each other. The weapons, well little more than an intimidation tool to scare off would be raiders.”
I peered up at Velora whose face had that ever dead look in it. Confident but dead yet. She knew better than me, but these were the first “people” we have seen; at least anything resembling people. As we drew closer, they pointed those large makeshift spears at us and when we were about ten yards away one of them yells “Go on your way. We don’t want any trouble.”
I froze in place. I was clenched against Velora’s harsh body. “We are not here for any trouble.” Velora said.
Two of the masked men started talking among themselves. At least I assume they are men. They had nothing distinguishing their gender. Then again, as I watched the others who gazed down from the deck too had nothing identifying themselves. It was far too quiet to understand, but after they were wrapped up, one masked man greets us dressed in brown rags. “Then what are you here for?”
Velora pushes on my back, pricking me to speak “Shelter.”
The masker bent over down to my stature. His frame was gaunt, his spear rested on his shoulder. He was steep as well. His mask was like that of a carved tribesman, only I could tell they made it out of scrap iron, with rust deposits. “Ah’ replica human, that is a strange thing to have.”
“I am not a replica.” The masked men then chuckling to my dismay. “I am not!”
His laughter immidiately halted and he stood up straight. “I don’t know what you trying to pull. We won’t fall for your trickery, devil. Go, before you make me angry.”
Velora stamps her foot on the ground. “We have food and water. The dust storm, however, we can’t prevent. She will die in it.”
“Alright, lets say you are a human. What are you doing traveling with it? A devil from below does not travel with a human.” One of the other maskers walks up and draws him aside. They murmur to each other. Again, too muffled to hear.
“Velora, there are a not going to let us in are they.” I said to her.
With out missing a beat and never diverting her gaze from the maskers she replied “We will walk in their wake until the storm ends.”
The two men are still chatting. There are now a few of them at the gates of the ship. The Masker from before comes back this time with four other Maskers with him. “Heh, so you want to come on the ship.” A more physically intimidating Masker says.
“I would… just until the storm ends. Its been harsh on me.” I timidly chirped.
Masker gives me a glance. He then gathers in a deep breath and lets it out gently. “You are very convincing, even got some errosion on you, thin thin layer of skin too.” He twists his head and nods.
“Alright, wait here. We just need to check on something.” One of the other Maskers said. The group of them wander away, leaving us with the first Masker.
Hiding under Velora’s insurance, I confided, “I don’t like this.”
Velora glances down at me. She takes a deep breath. “Where is are they going?”
“They are going to get a bio-scanner.” The Masker says leaning on his spear. “If you two are lying and wasting our time, you will pay with your lives.” Velora stamps forward at the assertion, her face expressed her clear distan for such words as her face transformed into something more animal like. “But if you want to leave with your lives, you can. Just do it before he comes back.” The man croaked.
Not wishing to see the man get slaughtered, I walked between the two. “No, no, its fine we can wait.”
The Masker looks down at me, stiffening his grasp on the large pike. “You are real serious about being a human.” His body tensed, locking at each joint.
“I am human.” I softly utter. I could tell with the Maskers moved his fists clutching his spear moving it from side to side. He was nervous, but why? I could not tell if it was Velora, or it was me.
The other Maskers dragged their large cloaks on the ground they fall back into a large torn out hole in the wall of the Almighter. We watch in silence for what seemed like forever. One of them finally comes back, while the others remain in the foyer. He is carrying a strange device that reminded me a bit of a camcorder. He casually saunters over as if giving us a chance to give up. However, Velora was sure about this. I smalled away into her arms, though what if that thing is defective? They surely would come upon us with their spears. A troop of them… stabbing at us.
“This is old tech, but we will see if you are telling the truth.” He speaks before pointing the thing at me. He corrects some nobs on the side of the camera like machine. Looking through the other end I hear an exclamation. “My lord, you are not lying!” he cawed glancing at the instrument. The other man leaps over to him nearly knocking his fellow over. He stares down at the apparatus and glances up. “Come our master will want to meet you.”
The surfaces inside the Almighter were enveloped in an orange red corrosion. I was attended by three maskers through the creaking giant; the narrow halls like a maze of metallic intestines. Leaky pipes on the faces of the walls produced a broth that cautioned of mucus. Velora followed close behind squeezing her body through the troublesome narrow aisles. A dense coat of green patina covered the boilers and iron pivots, materials I could not make out and the floor was nothing better than scaffolding and under the scaffold were many cables. “Watch your step.” one masker advises as he stared at me with that considerable iron mask.
“I will, thank you.” I comment back to him as I keep in the wake of his rags. We arrived at an immense staircase, at the top it opened to an unusual room. It was considerable broader; several more maskers are in the chamber working on shifts and crowbars. There is an extensive glass window which provides the inhabitants to look out.
“Captain,” one masker called. A guy in a broad, scored and torn coat turns toward him. His face too was marked by a mask, but his cloak suggested nobility declined. The fine garment was damaged and tethered into ribbons. The gold on the hems, tarnished, and a palm of dirt with mold and mud blemished his wardrobe. There were likewise large stretches of stains, perhaps blood drained through the ages.
“My lord!” the man sounds startled as looks straight at Velora. “What are thinking allowing that horrible thing in here?” I peered back to catch her straitening up, and she looked troubled.
“She is the girl’s guardian, she insisted on this… thing being with her.” one guard explained.
“Eh,” he groaned, disregarding Velora. He takes several steps towards me getting a proper look at me. Yet I could tell he had a scan on Velora. “How in the world did you survive out there?”
Calmly, I watched him in the eye fissures, a sleek blue eye regarded me. He had white skin. However, the other was shadowed. “I am from a colony of scientists. They have a strict no contact policy.” I lied. The captain rubbed the chin of his mask. Its funny. As much as people have changed, there is one feature that had not. Those subtle human ticks. The things we did communicating through the most rudimentary of vocabularies to one another. Why do such things? Yet, indeed the stroking of the chin spoke to me. Spoke even when not intending too.
“What are you doing outside of your colony? I would imagine that you do not leave often.”
I froze, fear entered my mind as I took a heavy breath to utter. Velora cuts in “The systems are failing. We are gathering supplies.” Thank God she saved me from lying though I would do plenty of it before we had finished. “We need rations and water as well.”
“Ah, yes of course, we have plenty, heh we only need water for cleaning anyway. I’ll will trade for it.” the captain paced. “I am delighted, however.”
“In what way.” Velora states. He zeroed in his footing and started striding towards us again.
The captain walked over to me, he placed his hand on my shoulder. I glanced over to Velora who did not seem so concerned. My eyes meet an inscrutable mask, tribal, noting of old natives of some jungle inhabitants. “She needs to eat? That is why you need the rations, am I right?”
I can’t see past that mask that withholds his every detail from me. “Everyone in the colony is 100% biologically pure with no nanomachine systems.” Velora said it with such uneventful precision, I indeed believed.
“Impossible.” the captain burst out.
“It’s true. We have a disease, it is caustic to nanomachines.” I impressed myself with my jargon. Would the rouse remain, however, I was not certain, and with no way of seeing their expression, it was impossible to tell. Though I must concede, it was entertaining. These people put on masks, and I enjoyed one of my own. Somehow in that I found my anonymity gave me something more, a power I carried, and in it I developed a secret vulnerability. The truth.
With this extra knowledge, the maskers all shifted towards me. I could virtually see the bewilderment on their faces. It persisted well sheltered, but the absence of stillness in everyone suggested they were astounded. “How? How can this be?”
“We keep them well.” Velora says.
“But, but, how are they alive?” another masker blurts out.
Velora places her hand on my back. “There is reproduction inside the colony. They live and they die. This one is young but she is almost ready to breed as well.”
The captain looked over at the others and stares back towards me. “We must know where is this colony. I must see these people!”
I gaze back quickly up to Velora face. Such a pompous grin stretched across her lips. “I am afraid we cannot tell you. We have to keep such things secret.” The captain’s shoulders slumped, his expectations shattered in a mere moment. “That is why they hired me as a guard. Still, I am surprised you have rations. Why do you bother carrying such useless things around?”
“Hoping to find a living human.” the captain gruffly states. “You give us hope. If there is one colony, then there is bound to be more. We have been searching the earth for a living human, collecting what we can to fortify them.” The captain turns his back to us. “Fair enough as much as I am disappointed, such treasures must be kept secret. We must talk at great length about your home. I am absolutely amazed by you.” I could hear the saliva dripping on the inside of his mask. “I never thought anyone survived. Its good to know that somewhere in the world is being restored.”
I wished to explain to him so much more. I wanted to let him know about my true mission to destroy Asergile. “You must be tired. Rest assured, you are safe within these walls and as far as food goes, we have plenty. You can have it, as much as you like.”
I settled on the balcony of the incomprehensible machine, looking out over a derelict landscape like many times before. Destroyed building stretched on to the horizon. It was dark and decayed. Large parts of the scenery were that fleshy glaze. From a distance, you could observe it pump blood through its great nerves. The skies were a crimson haze, occasionally flashing for lightning.
Velora was chatting with a few of the maskers about weapons downstairs. She seemed to be at home in a place like this, as if Velora were acquainted to this. Made me wonder, where did she come from. Who was she exactly? I shifted and found a bleak stare. I jumped! Masker! A woman in a threadbare gown, sullen with grim. I seized my chest as I faced her with alarm. “I am sorry deary, I did not mean to frighten you.” I took a moment to catch my breath as words would not crawl from my throat. “I had to see you for myself. I do apologize.”
I quickly recomposed myself, “It’s no problem.” The alien woman made me feel different, but then again in a sense I must admit I felt special. “With everyone making such a fuss over me, I have to ask, is there really no one else like me?”
She slowly goes over to the porch, dragging the hem of her dress as her feet suggest it stashed away horrors under those rags. “It has been so long since I have a seen a someone with so few blemishes, I almost forgot what someone looked like without them.” She replied as she got closer. “Can I, can I touch your skin with my hand.” It was an odd request, though one I was happy to grant. I nodded my head to her. She took off a patchwork leather glove from her hand as she reached. Three claws like things with steel cables traveling up the arm, veiled by her cloths. Her hand was wilted and felt like sandpaper across my skin. “Your so smooth. I had forgotten. So this is what we had.” She hastily stuck her glove back on.
“May I ask something of you,” the masker slowly bowed. “I want to see you without your mask?”
She swings the expressionless mask towards me. “I could not bare it. This mask is my face now. The abomination that I have become. I was once human like you belive it or not, at least that’s what they say. Memory is a funny thing, it comes and goes as it pleases. Now I can hardly consider myself human at all.” It was there with her canvased between the bankrupts and the red sky, that I realized it. There was no hope in her. “I know you lied darling.” It disturbed me, I curled my hand inward hiding my palms. “I know your not part of any colony that has others like you. You would not ask if there was any other like you if it was true.”
With a heavy throat I quipped, “I didn’t lie.”
“That is a dream too perfect to be true.” the masker replied.
“Then what do you think I am?”
“A haunted memory from a past long ago. A past where there were cities, and flowers, and all the things you remember.” She angled herself to stare off the balcony. “But now, your a ghost. My eyes have lied to me, yet you stand. You are an unfortunate soul. Forced to walk and toil with death. You walk in a land that hates you. Your very exestance insults the earth. You are not supposed to touch the ground here. You walk where fear treads. I feel sorry for you.” There was a silence we shared. The futility of my plight was becoming heavy on my heart… yet I planted my life in Velora’s arms. She was my guardian angel sent by God, at least I believed that was true.
“I hate to be a bother but I am getting tired.” She slowly bends her neck. I realize she did not expect to be cruel with her words, but they cut deep all the same.
She shifts to regard me. “Yes, that’s right. I forgot what it is like to slumber. As I said, a dream too perfect.” A long sigh exits the woman’s nostrils. “Tomorrow, before you leave, come to my room below. I have a gift for you.”
“Of course.” I nod and she disappeared, as I trudge over to the makeshift bed of cartons and box and lay down my head against the lumber and closed my eyes.
I awoke to fear creeping between the sodden sheets as I laid slumber. Startled, it forced me out of my bed. The covers rolled off my body, now sitting up in the dim chamber. My left hand trembled and floundered. The flesh raised up and coiled as something was rolling under Vanity’s arm. I flipped the borrowed hand over to look at a crack in my palm exposing a cavity. The teeth spread wide and delivered a wail I quickly joined. My fingers disjointed, rupturing the meat from my bone as rods of metal coil out of them. My forearm also gives way, turning into razor wire. It latches onto the rear of my head cutting deep, leaving me shrieking.
I opened my eyes to be laying quietly in my makeshift bed. I was sweating and my heart was pounding. I knew I would not be having anymore sleep that night.
I rose from my rusty bed and drove the whole slathered rag off me. Sitting up I noticed Velora standing in the room brooding over me. “Have you been watching me all night?”
“I don’t sleep. You know that.” she reminds me. I delivered a long sigh in this humid heat. The sky was still thick with the red clouds, but they were brighter. The sun must be out. Turning my legs over the bed, I stood up.
“I must go do something.”
Traveling through the network of iron tunnels; narrow arteries, channels in which the machine breathed, was difficult. The maze became more complex as the trail narrows from moaning cogs and pumps. I showed up at the terrace soon after. The masker was waiting for me; hunched over the rusty railing. She reminded me of an injured bird hunched over like that. He room was not unlike the one I settled in. There were decorations at all. Nothing… aside from a few trunks to hold her things. The cabin was soulless. She gestured to me and that impassive mask stared back at me. “Oh good you came. I was starting to worry you would not show up.” I continued my walk over to her along the withered plating. She reached under her cloak and drew out a mask. “Here take this with you, it will protect you from the elements.”
It looked akin to a face guard with goggles. It was all one piece with a ventilator around the mouth. It strapped on from the back and allowed my hair forehead and hair to lay over the covering. “That is mighty kind of you.” I managed before she holds my speech with the flap of her hand. The lady then moves over to a box. She leans in and captures a hard piece of metal, yanking it from the box, she reveals itself to be a complete set of armor. It is sturdy and the metal portions are kept together by cloth. The elegant structure had my eyes looking all over the thing. The fibers of the cloth looked curious but remarkably durable. It looked untarnished, like it was factory produced. “I.. I can’t!”
“Don’t be silly my dear, of course you can, and you will!” the masker sternly says. “You are not traveling to get food for your colony now are you?” She was right. “Don’t worry my dear. I won’t out you. I don’t know what your true mission is, but you are going to need some help. That demon you have out there bruting around for you, can’t always keep you safe.”
I hesitantly reach towards the costume. “Are you sure?” the woman softly nods. I stick my arm in the suit. Then my other arm and step into the legs. The trunk of the armor folds over mine. It dips at first, but suddenly the armor springs to life and fits snuggly against my chest. I grab the mask put it to my face and fasten the back. The suit automatically adapts to my size binding itself against my skin thoroughly. The large cloak would be plenty sufficient to stop the desert sand. The mask fit well too. It was more like a gas mask. It covered my eyes perfectly and ended at my forehead. “There, my don’t you look the part of a wanderer now.”
The full assembly fit very finely. Almost as if I was not wearing any of it. Only the extra weight, I noticed. “I cannot thank you enough for this.” I said to her.
“There is one last thing I want to give you.” She turns around and combs through the trunk. “Ah, here.” with her outstretched hand she displays a narrow cylinder to me.
I reach out and pick up it. Studying the thing, I can not figure out what it is. “I dont ’t understand.”
“Hmmm, strange.” She made for the cylinder in my palm. “It’s a beam sword.” the masker lifts it from me and pressings a small switch on the side. Instantly out of the edge of it a spark reached out. It displaced a faint light gleaming from it and the circling area.
“Wo.” is all I could muster. She renounced the laser sword and then handed over back to me. A slithering sound from the hall directs my attention. I swiftly turn to look at a bunch of slithering cables and body parts coming from the hall. “What is that?” the masked woman steps in front of me, as if to guard me.
However, as the body parts and cables came in the room I could make out Velora’s face, the confusion of tangled parts reform her body as she is growing together she peers at me. “Prina! What are you doing!?”
“What the hell Velora?” I say shocked and a little frightens if I am to be honest.
“You are a devil are you not?” the masker says to Velora.
She regards her for a moment, stern faced and almost, almost haunting. “Maybe.”
“Take care of her.”
“I wouldn’t harm her.” Velora growls quietly, clearly offended by the maskers bias. “Did she give you that armor?” I nodded my head sheepishly. “Thank you, it is very kind of you.”
“I dont know why? She reminds me of my daughter. It was the least I could do.”
“Your daughter?” I ask.
For a moment the masker paused to look at me. She swiftly turns away lowering her head. “You take care of that girl. You don’t want the blood child on your vile hands.” She continues into the hall without even looking back.
“Come Prina.” Velora says as she makes her way down the staircase to the desert below. I turned to look back at the woman as she walked away. Into the shadows far from my sight she left and I too walked my own path following after Velora, gripping the beam sword in hand.
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