Ascent - Part 4Date Posted: July 30, 2020
This chapter was written in collaboration with Scylla.
Scylla rushed into the room, only to have to dive away as the giant heel of the bloated technologist’s boot nearly stepped into her.
This is real enough. I could die in here with him.
Even though the floor was an illusion, it hurt just the same as if it were real. She held her side, as she stumbled up to the vision before her. It was Amon.
Not the Amon of present, the Amon of a painful past, covered head to toe in costumed garb. He was grappling with something, someone, who even towered over Amon’s masked form. It was only when Elezen turned slightly did she see the blank eyes of her long dead ancestor.
Xande. Emperor Xande.
She wasn’t sure if he was real, or just an apparition of Amon’s aether-addled mind. But as the gaze of the Emperor turned to her, she knew it was trouble.
Scylla looked up, hiding behind Amon’s garb, voice reduced to a small croak.
In the midst of Amon’s struggles with the shadows that threatened on all sides, a small sound came to his ears. Small as it was, it somehow managed to rise up above the myriad of raging blame and guilt.
He didn’t know how he recognized her voice – or why – but he turned his head to look for her. And found her nowhere.
“Scylla?” Amon croaked, coughing through the thickness of the air.
No! She shouldn’t be here! She is in grave danger!
He called her name again, wondering if it had just been a trick of the mind, like everything else was there. Another small sound caught his focus, and Amon glanced down.
To his shock, he saw her there – a tiny Scylla caught up in the vast darkness of the room.
Or no. She wasn’t tiny. It was him who was large.
Amon stumbled, realizing he was once more himself – the Technologist of old, dressed in his glorious finery of the past. Given back his powerful form, just as this shade of Xande had offered.
Could there be something to this? Could he actually have summoned up the power of eld that he so longed to find within the confines of the Tower? Had it been within him all this time?
-We can give you all you desire and more. Allag will be yours!-
Scylla stepped back and shrieked at his voice and form. This was the same masked figure who towered over her in his scarlet laboratory coat so long ago.
“No!” She cried out, the memories of the towering figure looking down at her over the bindings. The same face that laughed and mocked her as she cried out in howls and madness from the experimental Syrcus cages.
She fell to her knees screaming in terror, not noticing that her hands were fading away as fear frayed at the thin connection between her mind and his. But the shadow was not ready to let her go.
The dark aether wanted her as well.
The sound of Scylla’s scream brought Amon out of his revelry. Turning, he could see the shadows creeping towards her, terror written on her face as she also had nowhere to run.
No, that belongs to me!
He paused, taken aback by the thought. Not sure what he meant.
“Back!” Amon demanded of the shadows, commanding them away from her. For a moment, the energies did as he bid.
Then, he knelt down to her, his mind racing to find a way to reassure her that this was safe. He had this under control. They would be just fine – better than fine! He had the answers to all of their struggles, in fact!
Her terror only seemed to increase as he drew closer.
Of course. She didn’t realize that he was still himself and not the crazed mind he once was.
She always hated his masks. He sensed that they brought back terrible memories. This one likely the most.
If she can see my face, then she’ll know ‘tis I.
Reaching up, Amon struggled to peel back the face mask. It finally gave to his fingers, though as cloth that was not used to moving.
“Scylla,” he reached his other hand towards her. “’Tis okay, see? Why are you here?”
He was coming towards her. The giant skull-decorated mask drew closer and closer. Her voice gave out from screaming, and she curled against the wall as the brim of the hat shaded her form. Golden burning eyes pierced into her own gaze as she curled away.
Amon turned his hand back and shouted something to the shadows, causing them to pull back and remain at bay. But then he turned at her again, mumbling something into his chin. She gasped looking into the unfamiliar, now unmasked, visage.
So much damage… could aetherdrugs do so much to a person?
It was rare in the last days of Allag to see Amon without his mask. Sometimes he wore a half-mask, but most of the time, he would hide behind his favorite skull-shaped castings. Some said that he had picked this frightening visage of death from one of his own crazed plays.
“Amon…” Scylla was shaking as she looked up to the kneeling figure. “What… have you done to yourself?”
He was older, much much older than he should have appeared. Though the treatments had given the Allagans power over life and death, the ravages of the aetherdrugs had drained life away from his cheeks, leaving paper-thin skin stretched over his sunken-in eyes. Even his ears were wrinkled and drooped, only supported by the false bracings of the mask. Only the blue runic-skin etchings seemed to keep his face from peeling away to the bone underneath.
Underneath the mask, Scylla could only think that he appeared as of death himself. The technologist questioned her from darkened teeth and thin, pale, crack lips. She heard the aether-enhanced tones of his voice echo across the entire Tower.
“I don’t know…I want to go home…” She shook her head at his question, giving only a slight mumble as she squinted before his eyes, rocking back and forth as she struggled to maintain her own sanity.
“Please… let’s leave this place… leave the past… leave the power…”
She tilted forward and back in a mantra, whispering to herself, giving the technologist the slightest look before staring back at his blurred reflection in the floor.
“Let them die with this nightmare.”
It wasn’t the response he’d expected from Scylla. She stared at his face as if looking at something terrible and foreign. When her eyes strayed to the floor, and he caught a hint of his blurred reflection there, he realized why.
“No!” Recoiling quickly and feeling a pit of disgust well in his chest, Amon pulled down his mask again. Covering the horrible visage of his past-self’s face. “No… you weren’t… supposed to see! ‘Twas supposed to be me!”
But who was he now?
He’d lived another life outside of the Tower. But was that really him?
Or was this broken, drug-wracked form – one immersed in great power and strength – really who he was?
And why had Scylla followed him there? Only to be traumatized by terrible visions of her own past. Things so terrible that he could not hope to heal.
Amon paused, taken aback by his wandering thoughts. Surely, it was something in the distorted aether. Or maybe the drugs he’d taken before the procedure.
When did he, Amon of the Tower, ever stop to consider someone else before himself and his own power?
As if sensing his wavering hesitation, the dark aether began to press in, as if frustrated and impatient by this untimely interruption.
“Back! Do as I command!” Amon demanded of it again.
This time, it did not listen. Instead, it lashed out violently at Scylla’s tiny, curled up form, as if to demolish the thing that might sway the Allagan’s thoughts from the path of power.