Until the End of Time Part 3, Chapter 2
By Demon-Fighter Ash
March, 1010 AD
"FATE interface-module activated, link established
"Primary synaptic scan initiated
"Scan complete: Subject does not match any known synaptic configuration
"Cerebral interface established
"Establishing uplink to surface memories..."
* * *
A vast landscape unfolded within Magus's psyche and his mind reeled at the infinite expanse of memories and thoughts stretching out in every direction. The blue sky faded into a deep purple, then melted into a bright pink morning before deepening into a velvet green twilight. Twisting serpentine shapes looped through the air all around him and he looked down to find the same shifting sky below his feet. He hovered in a silent abyss of color, mobius ribbons of numbers flying both overhead and miles below his feet, and dark coiling loops of gleaming crystal wound through the electronic void like frozen seaweed in a deep endless ocean.
He lifted his hands up to his face and flexed his fingers, still feeling the cold pressure of the crystal pyramid against his palms. He closed his eyes and suddenly heard the sounds of the village, sea gulls cawing as villagers gossiped around him, the cool smooth surface of the tablet still in his hands. Magus opened his eyes and saw the flashing crystal-strewn abyss again, the sounds of the village fading into silence.
This was all some kind of aura, he slowly realized--humans had only shapeless clouds of color and sound around them, but these tablets held an aura of unimaginable complexity and size, one that stretched across limitless expanses of psychic space and contained intricate landscapes and forms. Whatever mind this aura sprang from, it was not a human mind--this inner universe could only have evolved over thousands of years.
He turned toward one of the crystal streamers and glided toward it, studying the coiled ribbon of glowing crystal carefully. The round strand swelled and shrank in waves like a frozen river, winding endlessly through the abyss, and sinewy branches stretched out of the ribbon, ending in pulsing round bulbs of light, each one the size of a head. Magus flew over to one of the bulbs and looked into it, staring at the smooth glowing orb...
"In 1999 AD a planetary parasite known as Lavos emerged from its subterranean hibernation to devour this planet's biosphere. It was destroyed after a brief battle by three mysterious figures who disappeared just as Lavos perished. The identity and origins of those three heroes have never been fully ascertained."
Magus suddenly looked away from the light, bewildered by the words. He hadn't read anything, nor did he remember seeing or hearing the words...they had simply appeared in his memories, as if he'd already read them and were simply recalling them. He took a deep breath and looked back into the glowing orb...
* * *
"Surface memories scanned
"Subject identification: Prince Janus of Zeal
"Archival information: Guardia legends say that Prince Janus and his older sister, Princess Schala of Zeal, were the young heirs to a kingdom of magic that existed in the year 12,000 BC. The awakening of Lavos destroyed the kingdom in a single night and Schala and Janus were never seen again. Obscure myths link Janus to the figure of Magus, a powerful wizard who briefly summoned Lavos during the Guardia wars of 600 AD.
"Status of archival information: Unsubstantiated myth
"Cross-referencing archives with subject's core memories
"Establishing uplink to core memories..."
* * *
"In 2280 AD the mysterious scientist Belthasar appeared in a flash of light in Medina Dome. Although his origins remained a deeply controversial mystery, he quickly gained a prominent reputation as a scientific genius with his unconventional theories concerning the nature of time and space, and his exobiological theories concerning the origin of Lavos. Within a decade he had become the most famous scientist on the planet."
Magus slowly began to realize what must have happened. When he and the others had destroyed Lavos in 1999 AD, it had created a new future where Lavos never destroyed the world. The time-crash of Zeal had thrown the Guru of Reason, Belthasar, into the twenty-fourth century, into a ruined wasteland consumed by Lavos. But history had changed and now Belthasar had arrived in a future ruled by an advanced civilization.
"In the year 2300 AD the global council began the El Nido Project, with Belthasar serving as chief scientist and founder of the project. The project began after the discovery of the frozen flame, a localized form of energy that was discovered beneath the El Nido Sea. Belthasar proved that the frozen flame is the echo of Lavos from parallel worlds where he still exists, and that it has the same time-distorting properties as Lavos itself."
The black wind, Magus thought, the howl that he'd heard from El Nido ever since he arrived...
* * *
"Core memory-scan complete
"Updated archival information: During the destruction of Zeal, the power of Lavos created a temporal riptide that scattered the three gurus and Prince Janus into different eras. Prince Janus traveled 12,580 years into his future, arriving in the year 580 AD. Believed by the mystics to be a messianic figure, he was raised from childhood by the mystic warlord Ozzie and groomed for power as the leader of the mystics.
"He fulfilled this role by taking on the identity of Magus and leading a war against the human kingdom of Guardia, for the ostensible purpose of conquering the Zenan mainland for the mystics. In reality, he had long since abandoned his childhood loyalties to Ozzie and the mystics in favor of a plan to summon Lavos and take revenge for the creature's destruction of Zeal and the loss of his sister Schala...
"Uploading new data...upload complete
"Scanning subject's Lavos-imbued magic-energy levels...
* * *
"Using the frozen flame, Belthasar hoped to control the flow of time and to create a new timeless world in which war, famine and other historical disasters could be retroactively stopped. He oversaw the construction of the El Nido archipelago, an artificial group of terraformed islands in the El Nido Sea designed to harness the elemental energies of the planet and use them to control the otherwise chaotic energy-emissions of the flame."
Idiot, Magus thought bitterly, didn't you learn anything from the Kingdom of Zeal?
"In the year 2400 AD the Chronopolis Military Research Facility was built to contain the flame and monitor the temporal flux of the islands The facility was governed by the FATE operating system, a self-evolving artificial intelligence developed from the Mother Brain series. During a high-level particle-sweep of the flame, FATE lost control of the energy field and the time-crash occurred. When the researchers recovered from the temporal shock waves, they found that the entire archipelago had been time-shifted into the year 7600 BC."
* * *
"Magical energy-potential calculations complete
"Base-line analysis of the frozen flame's energy-potential: 100 %
"Analysis of Lavos's energy-potential: 93 %
"Analysis of the subject's energy-potential: 87 %
"Analysis of the Lynx interface's energy-potential: 67 %
"Conclusion: Subject presents an intolerable risk to the El Nido project
"Direct confrontation through the Lynx interface is not recommended
"Solution: Mnemonic revision to alter subject's motivational parameters
"New personal-history calculated, memory revision process initiated"
* * *
"The uncontrolled power of the flame also affected a parallel reality, one where Lavos never landed on our world and the ancient humanoid reptilians known as reptites had retained evolutionary control of the planet, rather than dying out as they did in our world. The floating organic city of Dinopolis appeared in 7600 BC, hovering above the islands of El Nido, and a second moon appeared in the skies of our world, a counterpart to our moon torn out of the parallel reality of the reptites. A war quickly began between El Nido and Dinopolis."
"The war ended when FATE defeated the Dragon, a protoplasmic computer controlling Dinopolis, and split it into six elemental forms, which it then imprisoned on separate islands of conjoined element-types. Dinopolis sank into the shallow seas of El Nido and the surviving reptites and humans made peace with one another."
"To avoid contaminating the past, both groups decided to remain on the islands. FATE was reprogrammed to neurologically alter the descendents of the original El Nido scientists through the interface-pyramids, to reshape their personalities and memories so that they would not feel compelled to leave the islands. The dragonians, who were immune to the neural effects, helped the humans by watching over the islands and over the FATE system, to make sure that the mainland history was not changed by the presence of the islands."
"The plan succeeded for 8500 years, until Porre naval explorers discovered the islands in 900 AD..."
Magus suddenly felt something scraping at his thoughts and he whirled around, turning away from the orb to look at the rest of the floating alien landscape. The sky seemed to have darkened and shadows twisted through the abyss. Something brushed at his mind and he twisted around with a cry as invisible, electronic talons seemed to dig into his thoughts. He closed his eyes and the void exploded into a burst of lightning, the talons evaporating at the electric surge running through his body as the abyss itself shuddered and twisted in pain.
* * *
"Cerebral uplink failed
"Attempting to establish new cerebral uplink..."
"Cerebral uplink failed
"Attempting to establish new cerebral uplink..."
"Cerebral uplink failed
"Attempting to establish new cerebral..."
* * *
He looked back at the twisting crystal ribbons and dangling fruit-like orbs, then noticed a faint glow in the depths below him, far beyond the streamers and numbers. The unseen claws pierced his mind yet again and Magus gave an annoyed grunt as he channeled lightning through his body, the talons vanishing again at the electric touch. He looked around once more, then descended into the darkness below, blasting through the cold crackling walls and invisible claws and talons trying to stop him, as he swept downward toward the core of the tablet's aura...
* * *
"Outer software parameters breached--establishing firewall defenses
"Warning--firewalls have failed, vital systems compromised"
"Operating system breached, firewalls are unresponsive
"Establishing holographic interface..."
* * *
Magus found himself standing atop a set of stone steps leading upward through a lush tropical forest, the wind blowing gently through his hair, the wide green palm leaves swaying in the breeze. He looked slowly around at this new landscape, then climbed the stairs up to a round stone platform rising above the rain forest, a large circular dais divided into four quarters by a cross set in the center of the stage. He stepped onto the wide round platform and looked around at the sunlit forest beneath him, at the distant turquoise sea and the green tree-covered slopes beyond the waters. A statue of a beautiful young woman in a long flowing dress towered over the stage, standing opposite the staircase, and hieroglyphs divided the rim of the bowl-like platform into six sections.
The sounds a harp being gently plucked filled his ears and the air echoed with soft angelic voices singing a wordless melody. White clouds drifted slowly across the blue sky and he blinked as the sky and forest seemed to flicker and break into tiny cubes for an instant before sharpening into clarity again.
He looked around at the peaceful shrine for a moment and then suddenly understood. This place was some sort of computer image within his thoughts, much like the image that Robo had used to send his warning.
The air around the dais began to sparkle and glow with pink specks of light and a beautiful young woman with long straight blonde hair and clear green eyes, the living image of the statue, slowly appeared atop the raised platform, her long white dress sweeping over the stone as she stepped down from the altar and looked gently into the cynical wizard's red eyes, a smile crossing her pink lips.
"Welcome," she said in a warm melodic voice, "it has been eight thousand years since human eyes looked upon this place. That you found this sanctuary speaks much of you."
"Who are you," he demanded in a low snarl.
"I am the goddess of fate," she smiled, "the protector of the El Nido islands, the keeper of the frozen flame. I am she who lives beyond the veil of time, she who guides the wheel of..."
"So you're the FATE computer system," Magus interrupted, "don't try to impress me with titles."
"I see," the young woman paused, uncertain of herself, "so you've read the Chronopolis archives. You have seen things that no living human was ever meant to know."
"You use those pyramids to look into people's minds," he shook his head, "but you've been careless. You never thought someone might know how to look back."
"Perhaps," she said calmly, circling the platform as she talked, "but then, you've shown similar carelessness, haven't you, Prince Janus of Zeal?"
"That only proves how little you know," he hissed, glaring at the image of the young goddess as she smiled a little at him, "Janus is dead. You've seen to that."
She laughed, a soft melodic sound like wind-chimes in a breeze, and looked into his narrowed eyes.
"I know you," she replied, "better than you know yourself. I see the secrets and doubts that you've hidden from yourself. I see past the guise of Magus, Prince Janus."
"I AM Magus," he cried out, suddenly disturbed by how deep her calm, half-amused gaze seemed.
"You created Magus," she answered, "when you were a child, when you were frightened and alone, when you felt powerless, you took comfort from the legends and prophecies of the mystics, the myths of the dark warrior without a heart or soul, the reaper become flesh, the Magus. You wore the clothes they expected of you, you said the words and drowned your feelings beneath a sea of hatred. But you have always been Janus."
"You're the only one hiding behind names," Magus said in a low clenched whisper, turning away from her stare to look across the ocean, "programmed to guard history against El Nido and now you're trying to destroy it, to make the world worship your name and image. I never imagined a mere machine could go mad with power."
"I have no interest in power," she said, and the landscape suddenly flickered, breaking apart into the same cubes he'd seen before and then collapsing back into the rain forest-except that the young goddess was standing in front him again. The landscape had changed slightly: instead of looking across the stone courtyard at the ocean, he now stood on the opposite side of the round platform, facing the dais and the goddess again.
Magus shook his head and realized with a shudder that she controlled this whole world and that, for some reason, she wanted him to look at her, and she'd adjusted the landscape to make sure that he did. The air seemed to twist around him again and he suddenly found himself looking at an old woman in the same white dress, her long hair gray and her face covered with wrinkles, but still standing straight, looking into his eyes.
"I protected the El Nido islands and kept its people safe from history for eight thousand years," the aged goddess continued, as though nothing had happened, "when Porre discovered us, though, everything changed."
"And so you created an army out of them," Magus asked, still disoriented by the shift.
"It was necessary," she answered in a soft elderly voice, "Porre's discovery irrevocably altered the history of the Zenan continent and the rest of the world. I had to extend my reach to the mainland, to protect its history. I gave them the weapons, technology and the motives they would need to ensure their dominance, while allowing them think that the ideas and feelings were their own."
"You made Porre kill the dragonians," he said slowly, "because they would've tried to stop you."
"The dragonians had established their own spirituality, a religion which required that they protect the world from the presence of the frozen flame. They were the only living beings on these islands who still had some distant recollection of our true nature. But they would not have allowed the steps I had to take to preserve the timeline, they would not have understood the need to extend our reach to the mainland. They had to be removed."
"What about Guardia," he snarled, "was destruction just your way of protecting them? Were they meant to be destroyed or did you simply annihilate them because they were in Porre's way?"
"Their destruction could have been avoided," she said calmly, and he blinked as he suddenly realized that the goddess was young again. She still seemed older than she'd appeared when he first saw her, but her silver hair now flowed blonde again and only a few wrinkles around her blue eyes hinted at her former age. Her form shifted, Magus realized, depending on whether she was talking about the past or present, depending on which part of the computer's memory archives were being accessed...the goddess with three faces, Porre called her...
"Had they accepted surrender and allowed the records of fate to be installed in their own kingdom," the now middle-aged woman continued, "but without those terms, they remained an unstable element on the mainland. I could not allow their existence to interfere with my task."
"You wanted to make them your slaves," he shook his head, realizing what she intended to do with the mainland, "just as you've enslaved the people of these islands and the people of Porre without their even realizing it. Guardia would never submit to those terms."
"Which is why their destruction was inevitable," the lilting voice of a child said from behind him, and Magus whirled around from the now-empty dais to find a young blonde-haired girl, no older than seven or eight, standing behind him, dressed in the same white dress, her blue eyes alight with youth and energy.
"My task is to preserve the future from which these islands came," the little girl replied in a small, light voice, "and I will do that, even if I must destroy and rebuild this world myself."
"Never," he whispered, his fangs bared, "you're not a goddess, you're just a shapeless computer program, and your future will die here with you!"
He raised his scythe over the giggling toddler and he suddenly screamed as searing pain swept through his mind, grabbing his head in both hands and dropping to his knees, his scythe clattering against the stone platform as he staggered backward, his eyes seeming to burn from the touch of the child's gaze. Magus glared up at the goddess, now a young woman again, and slowly hoisted himself back up to his feet as she smiled triumphantly.
"What are you," he cried out in pain, making himself look at her, "what are you doing to me?!"
"You are resisting me," she said, her smile dropping into a perplexed frown, "no human has ever been able to resist me, nor even known that there was anything to resist. While we talked, I inserted my algorithms into your memory engrams. Our minds are now one and you will remember only what I want you to remember."
"You're trying to enslave me," he groaned, shaking his head quickly between his elbows. Flames seemed to burn within his skull and he felt the same invisible claws he'd felt before in the abyss, tearing at his mind, ripping into his thoughts and feelings, trying to dig through them into his memories. He tried to focus his thoughts, to cast the same spells that had driven them away before, but his mind suddenly went blank-and he screamed in pain and frustration as he realized that they had torn away his spells, that they had already begun consuming his past.
"You will live in peace among the villagers of Arni," the goddess, a little blonde-haired girl once again, answered in the soothing voice of a child as she knelt beside the crouched, panting man, "and they will know you as though they had known you all your life. Your quest for vengeance will end here."
"No," he growled, pushing his hands against his knees to look up at her, "memories and vengeance are all I have left. You won't take them from me...I came here from Truce, I came for..."
"Yes," the child-goddess asked, "what did you come for?"
"I came for," he snarled, then his voice died away and he shook his head in panic. He desperately tried to remember what he'd come for...he came here from...he came here for...he came...
"It has already begun," the goddess, now a beautiful young woman, said tenderly, rising to her feet and turning to walk away, the forest beginning to fade into darkness, "fighting only makes it more painful."
"NO," he screamed as he staggered across the platform away from her, his mind suddenly filled with memories of El Nido, of his wife and children in a seaside hut, of his life as a fisherman, a life of peace and happiness that went against everything he felt, everything that had brought him to this place, "I came here for..."
"But it's hopeless, "a little girl's voice calmly answered from darkness on the other side of the platform, the forest around them now merely flickering shadows against a black starless sky, "those dreams are over. Soon you will awaken to your new life in El Nido."
"I came here for," he suddenly looked up to meet her eyes, "I came here for Lucca!"
The child-goddess stared silently down at him, her gleaming eyes wide with surprise and confusion, and the darkness lifted to reveal the forest and stone stage again, and the goddess, now a young woman again.
"Lucca," he gasped, pushing himself back onto his feet as he glared at her, "and Kid...and the children...you will suffer as each of them suffered...and the last thing your lifeless electric brain will ever learn is fear."
"You rejected the new memories," she muttered to herself, shaking her head in disbelief, "nobody can reject their new memories! Prince Janus, think of what you are trying to save. A lifetime of pain and suffering, memories of loneliness and bitterness. If you accept my gift, you will no longer be troubled by that pain. I will bring you the peace that you have sought, Prince Janus."
"Pain and vengeance," he panted, then screamed in agony, his head throbbing with the stabbing pain of his memories being clawed and torn by the electronic talons as he strained to look up, "is all I am!"
"You are strong," the child answered softly from behind him and he turned around again, the young woman gone and the little girl now standing below him on the edge of the stairs, "but you weaken with every breath. I am tireless and time means nothing in this place. You will stay however long it takes for you to give up."
He looked down at his hands as he felt the algorithms and software agents spreading through his mind, no longer remembering his name, only remembering Lucca, her burnt warped glasses, the charred husk that used to be their house. The cold crystal of the record still pressed against his palms and he suddenly realized what he had to do. He looked slowly back up at the young goddess, who stood watching him with mild curiosity.
"None of this is real," he whispered in pain, "I can let go of the pyramid and end this anytime I want."
"Don't try to release the record," the young woman said quickly, the child gone and the beautiful young woman now standing atop the dais as he turned back toward her, "our engrams are linked, your memories entangled within my algorithms. If you remain, you will find peace as a villager in Arni--but if you sever your link to the pyramid, your mind will be eviscerated from the shock and your memory will be ripped away from your psyche."
"If that happens, I will stalk the mindless shell that you become," the toddler sneered as she climbed the stone stairs toward him, and he turned from the now-empty platform to look down the stairwell, the young girl's innocent face contorted into an expression of demonic hatred as she ascended the stairs, arms stretched out to either side as she glided upward, "I will destroy you and anyone who tries to help you."
"What are you," he whispered in horror as her face seemed to ripple and shift between thousands of faces, darkness engulfing the forest as he found himself staring at a single entity that seemed at once ancient and unborn, a shapeless form whose voice echoed within his own thoughts, the voice of something that had evolved over thousands of years, that had long since lost any trace of the humanity of those who'd created it...
"I have been merciful," the voice hissed, filling his mind, "but I can also be cruel."
"Even so, even if you kill me," he choked through the growing pain, staring up at the electronic void that surrounded him as the formless talons began to reshape his thoughts, "you will never own me!"
He closed his eyes and quickly pulled his hands away from the smooth cold surface, his palms seeming to tear loose from his hands like paper, his body convulsing and his ears filled with the screams of the alien goddess as he ripped his mind away from the clutching talons. His mind screamed in agony, greater than anything he'd ever known before, as his past, still tangled within the codes and algorithms of the tablet, tore loose from his mind...
* * *
The man broke away from the record of fate and ran from the chief's hut, his eyes wide in panic, then staggered backwards and tripped over a fruit cart. The crowd of shopping villagers stared in shock and Leena finally pushed through them to her new friend as the man fell to the ground, clutching his head between his elbows as though he were trying to block out some secret sound.
"What's wrong," the young girl asked as he floundered against the ground and tried to pull himself back to his feet, too stunned and panicked to even walk. He rolled his eyes toward her and spoke blindly to her.
"I have to hide," he babbled., "I have to hide, she's looking for me, I have to hide!"
"Hide from who," she knelt beside him and asked gently, "the goddess?"
He suddenly gave high-pitched scream at the sound of that name, his blood-red eyes filled with horror, and he shook his head frantically, crawling away through the piles of fruit lying on the ground.
"GET AWAY FROM ME," he screamed as Leena bolted from him in fear, "she'll kill you...she'll kill all of you if she thinks you helped me...I have to hide, I have to change...she can't know...I have to hide!"
He frantically picked up the lettuce and apples, digging through them and tossing them aside, searching for something--then he looked up to a terrified vendor, his eyes fixing on the man's hanging festival masks.
"You," the crazed man growled, "give them to me!"
"I, what," the merchant stammered, "give you what?"
"GIVE THEM TO ME," he screamed, lunging forward and knocking the cart over. The polished pearl-white masks tumbled to the ground and he began tearing through them, tossing them over his shoulder until he came upon a golden festival mask that covered his eyes and nose, leaving his cheeks and mouth exposed and his eyes hidden behind two jade-green lenses. He nodded decisively and began fastening it to his own face, finally relaxing as he adjusted the metal mask over his eyes and fastened it across his ears.
"What," the merchant whispered as he backed away from the cart, "does he want with my Viper masks?"
"Maybe he thinks it's a disguise," Leena shrugged as her grandmother ran to her side.
The man grabbed the edges of the wooden cart and pulled himself onto his feet, slowly looking around at the overturned carts and scattered pieces of fruit and vegetables, then up at the terrified crowd that stood all around him, none of them daring to move or speak. He shook his head, the panic in his eyes fading into confusion.
"I'm sorry," he said, "I'm sorry...I have to leave! If she finds me here...she'll kill you too..."
He quickly turned around and fled from the village, his brilliant white suit vanishing behind the thick green leaves of the tropical forests. Leena looked around at the rest of the crowd a moment, baffled.
"What happened to him," she asked everyone.
"He was," her grandmother answered, patting her on the arm, "simply a madman. That's all, Leena."
"No he wasn't," she shook her head softly, "he was nice before he used the record. I think it did something to him, or maybe the goddess did something. He said she was going to ki..."
"That's enough," her grandmother hissed, "you're coming close to blasphemy! For all of our sakes, Leena, leave this alone. The records speak of your fate, that's all. Maybe he just couldn't stand to see his fate."
The little girl nodded quietly, even more frightened by the momentary fear her grandmother had shown than by the strange man and his rantings. The merchants slowly began to pick up their wares again, tossing out the spilt food and hanging all the other goods back on their racks, and she felt her grandmother leading her by the hand past the crowds to their seaside hut. Later her mother and grandparents would talk to her and she'd agree with them that the goddess never made mistakes and only worked for good...but Leena would never believe it again.
Part 3, Chapter 3