Ruins of Madness, Part 1
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Last time on Nexus Nexus:
The Favor, Part 3

Thunder rumbled in the night sky, but it was not raining yet. For Matheus, this was a bad omen. The brown-bearded man had taken up his sword to face whatever adversity would come his way. He wore only his brown cloak and some leather clothing, but he was a tinker, he needed no armor.

He should never have gotten involved with this mage. No, he said to himself then, he should have noticed it in time, after all his beloved son had come out of this connection. But he should have noticed it at the least when he had seen her laboratory, when those strangely glowing glass spheres had whispered to him…

Reinhardt! He had to find him, the devil knew where that infame had taken him.

A flash of lightning illuminated the night, revealing two silhouettes on a hill in the distance.

The shapes matched. Matheus quickened his steps, but even as he ran toward the hill, the clouds broke overhead and bright blue light flooded down.

The smaller of the two silhouettes began to float…

As he got closer, he could understand the incantation.

"-and so descend, O Arbarab, the Devourer!"

And then a voice rang out that sounded like an entire choir. It seemed out of this world.

"The pact is made!"

He saw Reinhardt open his eyes. They glowed that unholy blue.

"Well done, Irene, this body will be of great use to me," he said in that eerie voice.

The woman before him fell to her knees.

"Oh great Arbarab," she said, "now it is up to you. You promise me eternal beauty."

"It shall be granted to you…"

Matheus heard her laugh as she, too, shone with bright blue light.


He slashed at her with his sword, driving it into the sorceress' back to the hilt in his rage.

She just giggled.

"You're too late," she cooed, "You can't stop anything. Now I'm… What?"

She fell forward, powerless, and stretched her right arm toward Reinhardt.

"Arbarab," she gasped, "why…. don't I heal, I thought I was eternal."

"You don't," Arbarab objected, consuming the barely two-year-old boy's face into a sneer. "But your body will remain beautiful forever."

"You… Liar…"

Irene stopped moving.

A clap of thunder lit up the hill.

"Release him!" demanded Matheus. "She is no more."

"Do you take me for a fool?" asked the creature that had slipped into his son. "Do you know how long it took to get a form in your world? That silly cow never even guessed what it was dealing with, I made sure of that. Now I can do whatever I please!"

"What do you want here!" asked Matheus. "Why seduce a mortal to give you her firstborn?"

"What do I want?" repeated Arbarab, laughing. "I want everything! To become more than I am! I want power! And the world is now open to me!"

With another thunderclap, Arbarab disappeared along with his vessel.

Matheus lost all his strength. He fell to his knees.


One last time the clouds let the thunder resound.

Chloe was not feeling well. She had a headache because she had to write three exams in a row today. And today of all days.

She lay on her bed because she couldn't motivate herself to get into an upright position.

"Meeeeheeheeee," she moaned.

Her closet squeaked open. Elli jumped out of the Nexus with a sky blue party hat on her head.
"Happy Birthday!" she warbled, blowing a party whistle. "Great job with your tests, Chloe."

Chloe, who was now pulling herself together far enough to stand, gave Elli a probing look.

"Have you graded my papers already?" she asked, "What about the one in German?"

"Uh, let's just say I'm good at placing bets. Anyway, Mrs. Copernicus lost a bottle of wine to me," Elli said. "I'd give you a present, but I can't wrap your laptop now, can I?

Chloe looked at her computer in confusion. It was the cheapest of the cheap.

"What did you do to it?" asked Chloe, startled and genuinely concerned. "And when, anyway?"

"When you weren't looking," was the reply. "First rate processors and graphics card. Homebrew brand, so you know they're good. Automatically masks you on the net and fends off all malware invented up to 100,453 AD, after which the hardware didn't keep up. I also put in a feature that automatically sends logic bombs to every spammer you encounter, but it's disabled at the moment. Oh, and you always have wifi no matter where you are, with minimum ping. No more hassles because of slow German lines. Or with the Telekom and is1… I wanted to add another AI and fusion battery, but Dean wouldn't let me."

"It's better that way," Chloe commented dryly. "Do you want me to come with you, or do you want to party here?"

"Oh, I came up with something special for that. You liked Lord of the Rings when we watched the movies together, so today we're going to a fantasy universe! Unfortunately, I haven't found one where Elves and Dwarves exist openly and simultaneously… Alright, two, but they didn't meet Dean's hygiene standards."

Chloe frowned, but had to admit she was curious. Elli rarely took her to medieval or ancient times. Granted, the last time Chloe had almost been thrown in a pond for being a witch because of her hair, but she liked that time period.

"I can at least check it out," she said to herself, shuffling to the closet.

Dean had already awaited her with a small birthday cake. It wasn't big, because only two people ate from it, however, Dean let slip in his usual direct manner that Elli had originally planned a multi-story model. Fortunately, it had exploded during the process of creation.

From Dean, Chloe had received a package. A multidimensional Swiss Army Knife with about five hundred tools, including the usual knife and can opener, but also exotics like a flashlight, a large circular saw, an axe, and a welding flashlight (already filled).

Chloe was dressed in a simple beige dress after the cake, Elli took a more striking white version with cleavage. Dean for his part looked like a blacksmith, wearing mostly brown leather and heavy black boots.

As Chloe entered the world, she was in for a surprise. The streets were much cleaner and the buildings taller than she was used to. The place really seemed like it was depicted in fairy tales. Except for the fact that it had just rained and there were puddles everywhere.

When they stepped out of the alley, they reached a large marketplace where merchants were selling their wares, jugglers were performing their tricks, and pickpockets were trying to earn a living. A fish seller who was arguing with a blacksmith about the quality of the fish caught Elli's eye.

"Are we in France?" asked Dean, looking around.

"Uh, by our standards, yes," Elli specified. "We are here on Lake Geneva on the side of the Roman Empire. Allinges is what this place is called."

"Other historical development?" asked Dean.

"Yep," confirmed Elli. "Here, America was discovered much earlier and there are only a few empires left. But that should not bother us. We'll just mingle with the- Huh?"

Elli had been cut-off off because angry shouts were heard.

Through the crowd, a person in a brown hooded cloak ran toward them and rammed Elli to the ground. Then he was off again.

Two city guards followed him.

"In the name of Roman law, stop!" one yelled as they ran past Dean.

"Are you all right, Elli?" he asked, helping Elli back up.

"Yeah," Elli moaned. "It's just my butt hurts…. Why do I feel so light?"

She looked down at herself.

"Oah! That guy stole my purse! GET BACK HERE RIGHT NOW, YOU RAT!"

She ran after the guards.

Dean and Chloe watched her go.

"What do we do now?" asked Chloe.

Dean shrugged his shoulders.

"You want me to take you under my arm?" he asked.

She backed away from him.

"Didn't think so. Come on, let's gather at the designated emergency meeting place. As soon as Elli gets her bag back, she can home in on us."

"You're not worried she'll get killed here?" asked Chloe. "I think we should go after her."

"We're talking about Elli, Chloe," Dean replied simply. "Whether it's because of her questionable brilliance or because she's so lucky it should be illegal, the woman survives anything, you should know that by now."

"Well, but-"

"The Red Plague of Bajandal?"

"Elli caught it, but brewed a cure."


"Spat her out again."

"Tesla's Death Ray?"

"She rendered it harmless before it could destroy the universe. Why did the guy have a death ray?"

"We're talking about Tesla here, the guy was one lab accident away from becoming a supervillain, at least in the reality from that time. In yours though, I think so too. But you get my point?"

"Yeees…" grumbled Chloe.

"Well, let's take it slow then. We can window shop in between. I think I saw crullers…"

Matheus ran as fast as he could. And that was pretty fast after the years he had spent traveling. Unfortunately, he had to steal to survive, and the guards had caught him. He hadn't gotten his actual target, but at least he had gotten the blonde woman's bag. With any luck, there was money in it.

He retreated into the dark alleys of Allinges and caught his breath.

Let's see what we've got there…

He reached into the purse with some remorse.

He reached in even further.

Finally he was up to his shoulder in the thing, but he felt no objects. Or a bottom.

But that was possible!

"You have to think five-dimensionally if you want to get to my belongings."

Matheus shook off the bag and grabbed it by the strap. In the same motion, he drew his sword and whirled around.

The woman he had stolen from leaned against a door and looked at him half annoyed and half mocking. Then she positioned herself in the middle of the alley, thus trapping Matheus in a dead end.

"I'm amazed," Matheus admitted. "How did you find me?"

"I always find my way to my belongings. You have no idea what they can do to the world."

The woman held out her hand.

"Now that we have established that my bag is worthless to you, would you please be a gentleman and return it?"

"I'm sure there will be someone who will buy such an outlandishness from me," Matheus declared, not particularly happy. "I am sorry, but I will not return your property to you, even if it is rightfully yours. Please forgive that."

"That was not a request I made," growled the blonde.

"You don't even have a sword, ma'am. You cannot intimidate me."

The woman chuckled.

"And yet here I stand before you. You should be wondering why I don't have a weapon with me."

"Enough of your chatter!"

Matheus sprinted toward the blonde with his sword raised, ready to ram the hilt against her temple. In doing so, he ran right through a large puddle.

Which suddenly disappeared along with its bottom, Matheus suddenly fell through a black hole and now found himself in free fall onto a green grassy area miles below him again. He began to scream as he somersaulted in the air.

"Welcome to my world," echoed in his head. "This is where I make the rules. You better let go of my bag or you're about to be red and very flat. But not dead…"

More by reflex than by intention, Matheus did as instructed. Immediately he no longer fell, but stood with both feet firmly on the grass.

He toppled over with another yelp anyway.

In front of him was a large boulder, on which the blonde squatted and put her bag back on.

No, she couldn't get away with his loot. He had no more money to get out of town and he could say goodbye to both his hands if the guard caught him.

Matheus picked himself up again and, with the courage of desperation, pointed his sword at her.

That meant he wanted it.

Actually, he held out a bouquet of roses to the woman instead…

"Oh, flowers! Are they for me?" she quipped with a smug grin.

The thorns pricked his hand and so he dropped the plants with a suppressed cry of pain. He spotted his sword next to the blonde. It was stuck in the boulder.

"Give me back my sword!" he demanded.

"I guess you still don't know what situation you're in," the woman mused.

Behind him, another black hole opened up and took the form of a front doorway. A strong wind came up and blew Matheus off his feet, straight toward the hole. He gritted his teeth and clawed his hands in the grass to keep from being blown away.

"No! Anything but my sword!"

The woman regarded him with nothing but contempt.

"Why should I listen to the pleading of a thief? Oh, you even pushed me down, that means, I was actually robbed by you."

If he lost his sword here, he would never be able to face Arbarab. He could not lose it here!

The wind picked up, but Matheus mustered all his strength and began to crawl across the ground, always looking for footing in the grass.

"You are fond of your weapon, it seems to me," the woman remarked with a sneer.

"Say what you will, witch," gasped Matheus. "Take my money, take my clothes, but never will you stop me from doing what must be done!"

He continued to crawl. The wind grew even stronger.

He stared resolutely up at the witch.

He would not let this woman who had appeared out of nowhere stop him from saving his son, even if she poured red-hot rock over him.

She tilted her head with mild interest.

"Hmm… What is it that drives you?"

Suddenly, the wind stopped. The hole closed. Matheus remained on the ground, breathing heavily. The woman stepped toward him.

"Tell me, what is it that makes you rebel against the next best thing to the God of this world, even with your back against the wall? Depending on your answer…"

With a metallic whirr, his sword dislodged from the stone, somersaulted a few times, and stuck in the ground just out of his reach.

"What do you want?" asked Matheus from the ground.

"Fun?" was the uncertain reply. "I've seen many ages and many worlds, but a man of your ilk I see depressingly rarely. What exciting stories could I experience with you, so tell me."

"You want to help me?" he asked incredulously.

"Depends on what you tell me, and remember, I can see through any of your lies…"

He couldn't believe it. Matheus was about to gain an ally. He considered his words, then took a deep breath.

"My story is the hunt for an elusive and mysterious creature…"

Arbarab had finally found what he was looking for. Soon he would be more powerful than even the gods of this world…


His vessel, now six years old, dressed in a gray cloak with a hood, made his way most directly through the alleys of Allinge. He was so sick of this vessel. He loved to indulge in gluttony, in games. But his body had some annoying quirks, first and foremost that mass gain… Sure, he had grown a lot in the last four years, but constantly Arbarab had to expend his strength to get rid of that useless fat… And the erotic things hadn't worked out yet either…

Let me go…

But that would soon come to an end… He had finally found the place where he could summon the seal. And then he would break it, he would…

Get out!

Something wrapped around him, spider silk by feel, but nothing could be seen. And yet it forced him to change his course minimally…

He was distracted by nasty puzzlement as he half-rammed a white-haired girl in silent panic. The influence disappeared instantly.

"Hey, watch it!" the girl chided him, but Arbarab wasn't really listening.

He grabbed her by the hand.

Sure enough, there it was again. A kind of silver power that lay dormant in this girl like magma in a volcano about to erupt. You could only feel it if you touched it directly.

It was immeasurable. Was it possibly only his instinct that had caused them to collide?

Run away, girl!

Arbarab wrestled with himself but since his nature was largely driven only by impulse, he did something that would delay his plan. He decided to seize this power as well.

"Hey, it's not proper to grab strangers," a giant man next to the girl, probably her father, instructed him.

He was in the way.

Don't do it!

Arbarab made a hand gesture and the man was hurled against the nearest wall of the house. The girl shrieked out.

"You're coming with me…" said Arbarab.

He used his own voice to make things clear.

"DEAN! HELP!" she screamed.

The flung-away man disengaged himself from the wall in which he had left an imprint and stomped toward Arbarab with an expressionless face.

"Don't bother…" said he.

He congratulated himself on saving the magic for a teleport, but now was the time.

In a flash of light, he and the girl he was holding disappeared, leaving behind a confused man and frightened passersby.

"So, let's recap," Elli began as they strode down her hallway.

Matheus, which the man was called, looked around in perplexity.

"You've been tracking this thing for four years now, know it can slip into people's bodies, know absolutely nothing else about this creature except its name and that it can do magic, and think you can stop it with a sword? You, sir, are funny."

"I was hoping to find clues about this thing in my travels, but no one has ever heard the name Arbarab."

"Hmm," Elli went on. "Granted, what you've told me suggests a demon, but no demon I know behaves that way. He wants more power… that's a motivator for lower demons, but none of them are capable of such things as you described to me."

"It destroyed a building in Florence with just a snap of its fingers," Matheus helped further.

"Hmm, maybe I'm coming at this from the wrong direction," Elli thought aloud. "He's here in Allinges, that tempts me to experiment…"

She teleported them both to her cosmoscope. Matheus acknowledged what was happening with a yelp.

"Don't ever do that again!" he demanded. "What is this outlandish construct?"

"This, Matheus, is a cosmoscope. I can use it to look anywhere I want and, even better, I can look for things…"

She began making adjustments.

"Fine, then we know where he is, but then how are you going to get to him?"

"I'll know as soon as I find him. Let's see where the biggest astral access is here…"

She looked through her cosmoscope.

And got eyes the size of dinner plates.

"Oh what the… Matheus, look at this!"

Matheus startled again as a screen next to him popped on, showing him what Elli was seeing. A boy was dragging a much taller and thinner girl along a forest path.

"That… that's him, that's my boy," Matheus gasped, hard at work holding back tears. "Oh gods, he's gotten so big…. Who's that next to him?"

"My girl…" rumbled Elli, fists clenched. "Matheus, hope you get your hands on that astral being before I do…"

Matheus listened up. This info was apparently so important to him that he smoothly overheard what Elli had said about Chloe.

"Astral being? You know what Arbarab is? What's that?"

Elli took a deep breath to calm herself. It only helped to a certain extent.

"Astral beings come from the astral plane, a plane of existence above ours, nothing exists there but pure energy and information. But some of it can think for itself and looks at our world without feeling. These beings see us and desire to be like us, to feel like us. They desire emotion and ecstasy. You see, Matheus, these creatures want to live."

"I do, but what does that have to do with my son?" asked Matheus.

"Normally, astral creatures seek entrances to our world. These are only created by mages who need to access the power of the astral plane to cast their spells. These are then taken over so that the astral being can affect our world. And they bring with them lots of magical potential, far more than any magician in this world. Properly trained mages know how to resist such a takeover, but sometimes, there's a novice who isn't paying attention, and…. Your wife was a mage, correct?"

"Yeah, she said she researched souls. Had a lab with lots of blue glowing orbs. They whispered to me…"

"A mage studying astral beings?" repeated Elli. "Here? Suicide is easier. I suppose she mistook the astral beings for demons and allowed herself to be seduced by the one you call Arbarab. I see, but what is he doing here…? You know what, we'll figure this out as soon as we collect my companion, and then we need to come up with a plan to free my Chloe from his clutches right away."

"Wait, what about Reinhardt," Matheus wanted to know.

"I'll take care of him as soon as he doesn't have a hostage to use against me. Why did he take her in the first place?"

Matheus shrugged his shoulders.

"You might as well ask what he wants in these mountains."

Chloe still didn't quite understand what had happened. A six-year-old had captured her and flung Dean away, apparently with the power of his mind. And then she had been teleported.

At the moment she was deep in the forests of the Alps around Lake Geneva. The little boy was dragging her behind him with more force than he should have.

"Okay, um, what do you want with me anyway? I'm completely harmless."

The boy laughed in that strange voice that seemed to come from more than one throat.

"You can't hide what's inside you, girl."

"And you can't take it from me, not without dying."

At least, that's what Chloe hoped. If Ku destroyed her body, then he had to do the same to others when he was taken over, or so the theory went.

To her relief, the boy growled in frustration.

"That's true, but that will soon change when I break the seal. And then you'll be a welcome bonus."
"What seal?"

The boy gave her a smile that definitely did not belong on a child's face.

"What a coincidence that you ask that right now, we're here. You know, just a shadow's width away from this world, there's a mighty power floating in the void, hidden in a man-made seal. We noticed and observed it ages ago, after it was banished across all time and space. And we have wanted it, reached for it, but from our home no arm is long enough. But, thinning the grid of reality a little here, in your world…

Chloe was far too busy to realize that she was obviously not talking to an earthly being here, that she didn't even notice what the boy was muttering or what gestures he was performing.

But she felt the earth begin to shake, while the trees in front of her began to blur, as if they were being viewed through rippling water. In general, the whole environment seemed as if it were in flux. New plants and trees appeared that looked a little different from the native flora, and with a cosmic groan, a massive building materialized in the undergrowth before them.

Wait, Chloe corrected herself, it was several buildings, she could make out smokestacks over the trees.

Factory chimneys… They didn't belong here at all!

Now that Chloe looked at the building, wasn't that-!

"Move!" the boy growled, exhausted.

Chloe considered running away, but bluish glowing power began to crackle around her captor. Presumably, even after this feat, he could still burn her in a fireball if he had to.

With queasy feeling she stepped through the destroyed entrance gate. And saw on the wall a first clue written in red paint.



In another building nearby, the Nexus opened in a doorway and spat out Elli, Matheus, and a somewhat ragged-looking Dean into some sort of empty storage room. Matheus and Elli's companions had accepted each other's presence without much reaction after Elli explained the situation. But Dean's statement had troubled them.

The astral being could use magic without words. That meant Elli couldn't know when Arbarab would use what. Moreover, since astral magic was energy-based and not reality-based, her ability to exploit reality shifts was almost useless here as long as the astral being didn't twist reality. And then those buildings that had suddenly appeared…. In the Nexus, a whole bunch of warning systems had kicked in after they picked up Dean, that's why they had been able to react so quickly. Something wasn't right over here at all.

"What's that rock," Matheus asked as he looked around. "It seems like this building was hewn from one piece, but no miner works this smoothly or precisely."

"It's concrete," Elli explained. "Think of it like plaster, only much stronger and harder."

"Oh," the bearded man made. "So this structure was cast?"

She eyed the walls suspiciously. Concrete had no place here at all.

Dean had moved forward into another room. Elli suddenly heard the sounds of his disgust.

"Did you find anything interesting?" she asked as she and Matheus walked over to him.

"Look at that, it's disgusting," Dean spat, pointing to the room in front of them.

"By the gods!" gasped Matheus.

Huge cylindrical machines filled the room, twelve in number. Human corpses had been tied to one of them with wire. In addition, a kind of black sludge lay everywhere in thick layers.

Most of the machines seemed inert, but the one that had been so disturbingly decorated was radiating tremendous heat.

"What the hell happened here?" murmured Matheus, stunned. "Elli, did you- Elli?"

Elli had stopped stock-still as she read something that had been written on the machine among the bodies.

"Oh no… Why is this here!!!"


She shook her head in disapproval. This couldn't be true! It couldn't be!


"I know where we are…" she said in a choked voice.


Next time on Nexus:
Ruins of Madness, Part 2

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