Sunday, 5 August 2018

Episode CXCIX - The Sentinels of Gihana

“Oh, I do so love a warm welcome,” Siren said before grabbing Ellis’ arm and yanking him sideways as the first of the impossible geometric defences hurtled towards their position.

Ellis let out an unmanly yelp as the defender – a monolith of stone or metal or crystal, constantly changing in configuration like some blocky Minecraft mecha – crunched down on the spot in which he had been standing mere nanoseconds before.

“How the hell are we-“ he began, before Siren pulled him towards her once more and another sheet of hefty death descended behind him like a lead shadow.  They ran then, ducking and diving, weaving through a living avalanche of crystalline forms.  Ellis held tight onto Siren’s hand and followed her lead, trusting her to navigate this slalom of destruction, though to what safety or shelter, he was having difficulty imagining.

There wasn’t a lot of opportunity to look around and it was fair to say that they hadn’t had much time to survey the layout of the city before the assault began, but from what Ellis could make out, it was fairly open and any shelter there might have been was designed for the former occupants and their defences, not for them.  He didn’t think taking shelter in an Ancient’s parlour would be much to their advantage, for example.

And as the defences slammed down all around them, Ellis realised that he had no idea what had become of Annabella and Nadiyya.  He could only hope they were able to hold their own, though he wasn’t sure how much longer any of them might last.

And then, just like that, Siren was pulling them into a crack in the wall, one which obviously wasn’t part of the original Ancient design as the blue-green light of the city did not seem to penetrate it.  There was barely enough room for the two of them and, if it turned out not be shelter from the city’s defences, there was no escape.

Ellis saw the crystalline sentinels approaching, felt Siren’s heart beating so very close, so very fast, and closed his eyes.  Siren squeezed his hand tight.

There was a low rumbling noise, getting rapidly louder as the defences reached out to them, then a sudden, solid crack.

Ellis opened his eyes slowly, as if unsure whether it would even be possible, but, sure enough, he was alive and staring into the edge of crack which now seemed filled with blue-green light.  One of the inorganic sentinels barred their escape, but it seemed it couldn’t reach inside to get them either.  Then, as they watched, hand-in-hand, chest to chest, the lights seemed to melt away and the sentinel was gone.

Ellis let out a breath he wasn’t aware he had been holding and felt Siren do the same.

“Well, we’re safe… for now,” she said and, driven more by adrenaline than anything else, Ellis kissed her.

They waited several minutes, though it seemed much longer to Ellis as they stared out across the suddenly silent city of the Ancients.  Of Annabella and Nadiyya there appeared no sign, not even evidence of the city trying to fight them off.  It was as if they had just vanished.  Had they been killed?  Ellis couldn’t bring himself to voice the question and, it seemed, neither could Siren, so they watched in silence, still holding each other tightly in the depths of the crevice.

It was Siren who eventually broke the silence.

“If we step out from here, they’ll just attack again, won’t they?”

“I don’t see why not.  So long as we’re within the bounds of their city, they’ll try to defend it.”

“So we need some way to not break that boundary.”

“Like using mirrors on lasers,” Ellis mused.

“What are lasers?”

“Oh, sorry.  Earth-thinking.”

Siren rolled her eyes.

“If only the Former Baron were here, he’d probably think of something.”

“Or, you know, I could,” Siren said snappily.  Ellis felt her other hand wriggling between them, sliding down her belly and his towards her trousers – and his.

“Er,” he managed, whilst feeling blood rushing to all sorts of places it shouldn’t – not least of all his face.

“Oh, get over yourself, Ellis Graves!  I’ve got some Black Sand in a pouch on my belt.  Perhaps you can help me reach it?”

Ellis blushed even more, but nodded and started to wriggle just enough to allow Siren to slide her hand down even further, untie the pouch from her belt and then, slowly and uncomfortably, drag the pouch back up to where there was enough space to free her hand.

“What do you have in mind?”  Ellis asked as she peered thoughtfully into the pouch.

“If I can use a mixture of Slayer techniques, perhaps I can make myself, or even both of us, invisible to the city.”

“How do you reckon that will work?”

“Well… I don’t know that it will, but my guess is that the Ancients were using some kind of Hypostatick Philosophy just like Franck – and Slayer ‘magick’ – does.  They could only be detecting the Hypostatick energy in our bodies, right?”

“I guess so…?”

“Well, Slayers use Black Sand to alter that energy and project it.  If I can project it enough it might serve as a kind of shield against breaking the city’s hypostatick boundary.”

“You do sound like the Former Baron,” Ellis mused.  Then he shrugged – at least as much as the space would let him.  “Give it a go,” he said, “it sounds just mad enough to work - I mean, madness seems to be the Philosophick method, right?”  He grinned and Siren kissed him again before returning her attention to the sand.

“We need to sprinkle some of it around us.”

“That could prove difficult.”

“Well, let’s just do our best.”

The wriggled and squeezed and generally caused each other considerable discomfort as they took pinches of the black sand and began to sprinkle it liberally around their feet.  The confines of the space mean that most of it fell on their feet, but after a while, Siren let out a sigh and said, “that’ll have to do.”

Ellis nodded and asked, “what’s next?”

“Now, we need to cross our arms and close our eyes whilst I work on the incantation.”


“Ellis, be quiet and let me concentrate.”

They wriggled some more until they both stood with their arms across their chests, pressing uncomfortably against each other, then Siren slowly closed her eyes.  Ellis watched her for a moment, then followed suit.

At first he didn’t notice anything happening at all and in the awkward silence that followed was sorely tempted to open his eyes once more, but, just as his patience was about to run out, he felt a warm tingling sensation beginning at his toes and rising, gradually, but with increasing speed and forcefulness, up through his whole body, until he could feel it in his fingertips, his nose, shrinking across the crown of his head.  As the feeling passed, wavelike, across his body, he found that the muscles it left behind seemed stronger, more prepared, the skin tougher, the body more ready for action.  It was the most remarkable sensation he had ever experienced and it made him feel like he could do anything, like he was a superhero.  It made him feel unstoppable.

What happened next wasn’t the result of any conscious thought.  Ellis didn’t decide to take action, then follow-through, but rather it seemed that the action was already happening before he thought of it, that, as soon as he was really aware of what he was doing, it was already too late.

He wriggled free past Siren and, before she could grab him, before the words ‘Ellis, no!’ could leave her lips, he stepped out into the Ancients’ city once more, his body primed and ready to fight, even as his mind was slowly catching up to the terrifying realisation of what he had just done.

He closed his eyes and took a slow step back to reach for the cleft in the rock, but even as he fumbled to find the gap once more, he realised that Siren was stepping out from it and brushing past him and laughing.

“It worked!” she laughed.  “Open your eyes, Ellis, it actually worked!”

Ellis obeyed and saw the dazzling and confusing city of Gihana laid out before him, still and calm with nothing trying to kill them at all.

He turned to Siren, drew her in for another kiss and muttered, “You are truly amazing,” before they separated and stared out across the city once more.

“Now what, though?” he asked into the silence.

“Now we find out what happened to our friends,” Siren said and this time she sounded really worried, “because if the city is still, that doesn’t just mean that it’s stopped hunting us… it’s stopped hunting them as well.”

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