The Herald of the Broken One, Part 1
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Last time on Nexus:
Copy Cat, Part 3

Olaf wiped the sweat from his brow. The blond-bearded Viking had been sitting in here for thirty minutes now, and he was beginning to notice how the tension was taken from him. The jarl of the village, Sven, a huge man with red, thinning hair, leaned back beside him.

"A great thing, uh, what did they call it again?"

"I think they called it Sau-na or something, Jarl," Olaf answered.

"I think we got a good deal on that one with those Scots. Who'd have thought the blonde would have such good ideas. I can take it if we don't bring anything back from our raids. Helga is going to love this thing."

"What are we going to do with them now?"

Sven pondered.

"Well, the tall one knocked Erik out with one punch, so maybe we can bring him along on our raids. And the blonde one has a pretty bright head on her shoulders. Let's see what she comes up with next. Say, do you think I could marry her off to Vilhelm?"

"I don't think anyone will take her, Jarl," Olaf replied. "She's as scrawny as a branch, after all, You'd be afraid she'd break in two at any moment.

"Hm…" Sven pondered.

The door to the little cubbyhole was pushed open. Norbert came into the room in full gear. He seemed to have been sweating even before he entered the sauna.

"Jarl, I have something to report!"

"Are we under attack?" Sven asked.

"Uh, no, Jarl, the, uh, 'loot' is gone."

Sven jumped up.

"WHAT!!! Have you been searching for them?"

"The search is already underway, village leader, but we have no idea where they went."

Sven frowned.

"How did they escape? Did Karl let them out?"

"He swears by all the gods of Asgard that he didn't budge from his post while he was guarding the prisoners, and all the bolts were still in the same place we put them in."

"I'll be right there to lead the people. Olaf, you come too."

Olaf sighed.

"Uh, there's one more thing, Jarl," Norbert pressed on.

"What else," Sven blathered.

"All our bjórr1 is gone…"

"The bjórr is gone!?" echoed Sven, completely aghast.

Olaf sighed again. Well, at least they had the sauna now….

Ku was bored.

Chloe's life definitely couldn't be described as monotonous lately, but when she wasn't traveling the entire cosmos and running away from something, her clockwork routine made the dead god's hair stand on end.

Chloe hardly ever came to see him. She loathed Ku. He couldn't even blame her, who would get chummy with the cancer that was slowly but surely killing you.

Still, he thought it was a shame. He might have been able to goad her into using her desire for something good.

Eternal world peace, the annihilation of all disease, the elevation of humanity to an intergalactic civilization, the subjugation of even the most powerful gods in the universe or perhaps even multiverse, it was all possible. After all, Ku knew from Chloe's memories, that he had once been a god who had depopulated an entire universe.

Nevertheless, Chloe's absence had also an advantage, he could browse undisturbed in her memories, although she had forbidden him to do it several times. What would happen anyway? It wasn't like he could tweet about it.

But even a human memory had limits. Chloe's life in large parts read like a tragedy, and this in such consistency that Ku was getting tired of it.

He wanted something else…

The god corpse strolled through the library that was a metaphor for Chloe's memory with a searching look. Each book was a different part of her life.

He tried one of the more inaccessible wings today, because it was farther from the center. The farther he got, the more things he would find which Chloe consciously or unconsciously suppressed, alongside a pile of information so rarely needed that Chloe's mind had also sorted it so far back.

There, in the deepest part, Ku found a huge book chained to a desk with huge chains. It had no title and its cover was of such blackness that it swallowed all light and seemed almost two-dimensional.

Full of eagerness to experimentation, Ku tried to undo the chains, but when he touched them, it was as if he received an electric shock of fifty thousand volt. In any case, he was properly roasted by white lightning and fell to the ground twitching uncontrollably.

It took him a little while to stand up again, puzzled and still fuming. His hair was sticking out in all directions.

He had never experienced that before. He admittedly had trouble removing Chloe's artificial filter back then2 but that had only been difficult, not life-threatening.

He looked at the book with even more curiosity.

Chloe had applied an extra-thick layer of defense mechanisms for it, enough to stop even something as powerful as Ku, regardless of how much will and power he could exert of his own. It wasn't something a normal mortal could just do.

In fact, the lightning had felt holy somehow….

"What is it that you're hiding from yourself even now, Chloe?" he muttered.

"Your alcoholism is one thing, Elli, but you're supposed to be drinking the beer, not bathing in it!"

"Itsh… Itsh all right, I've shaved it for later."

"Oh, how disgusting!"

Chloe listened to the discussion between Dean and Elli with one eyebrow raised.

She had called Elli out on her strong perfume, only to find out that it didn't just smell pungently like beer, it was beer.

Now here she was, standing in Elli's living room, which was big enough to fit an entire house in, waiting for the mistress of the Nexus to get ready to travel.

"Wait a minute, Chloe…" Dean asked.

He tried to reach for Elli but she just staggered to the side, giggling.

Dean made an annoyed sound.

And knocked Elli out.

Chloe squeezed her eyes shut for a moment as Elli hit the floor. Dean then dragged her by the feet behind him into the bathroom.

About two minutes later, Elli seemed to wake up again.

"GYAAAAAH! Not the brush! Not the brush! NOT THE BRUSH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! AAAH!"

"Now hold still or I'll get the sponge!"

Chloe looked around the living room while an epic battle to the death was apparently going on in the bathroom.

It was filled with furniture and decorative items from all eras of the world and probably those of some other planets. Oil paintings and valuable-looking antique clocks were next to modern recliners and a table that was basically just a plate floating in the air.

Surprisingly, there weren't many photos. A few were exhibited, most of them selfies or shots of a less than enthusiastic Dean.

And then there was a picture, set in a subtly ornate gold frame on a shiny slipcover on a dresser that must have served as a shrine of sorts for the picture. It showed Chloe, Elli, and Dean in front of the Shin-dan-su3.

Chloe began to wonder how Elli would react when she eventually died. Half a year had passed by now, and in six months her life would end thanks to Ku. She could feel the weight on her body by now. She exhausted faster and she slept longer. And it was getting a little bit worse with each passing day…

"You're sho mean, Dean!" whined Elli, abruptly snapping Chloe out of her thoughts. "Gloe, tell him… tell Dean shat hesh a… a really baf fwiend, tell him shat!"

Elli whimpered unhappily and held back the tears only with difficulty, but now she smelled decently again and Dean had it in the short time even managed to put her hair up with a barrette.

All three of them wore antique-looking cloth clothing, robes that reached down to the floor, decorated here and there with metalwork such as gears or rivets.

"Where are we going now, actually?" Chloe asked.

"Today ve go to not ash anshient Greesh," Elli explained, opening the Nexus in front of them. "We shtay only for one 'our, though, butt shere ish shomeshing very cool you ned to shee."

Elli stepped in front of the portal, Chloe did the same.

While Dean stepped out of the closing Nexus behind them, Chloe's eyes bugged out.

"I guesh I should breshent to you," Elli slurred, swaying a little. "We ve are nouw in she year fifty after Christi emergshensh and directly in Greesh. Dish here isch she shityshtate Amoni."

Chloe understood why Elli had wanted to show her this city.

It was positively radiant in the glow of the setting sun. It was built in the typical architectural style of the region and time, but inside it showed a multitude of machines, gears, and vents that seemed to be arranged to make the most beautiful sight possible. Everywhere in the city there was hammering and ticking, to one side the city opened into a beautiful harbor with numerous ships and beyond the city wall…

Chloe first thought it was a tower, until she realized that the construct was moving. It was basically a ninety-meter-high bronze tower, but it had arms, legs and a head, making it look like a somewhat deformed human. Steam poured from vents at its back as it leisurely stomped along the city wall. As Chloe looked around, she spotted two more of these machines walking the perimeter of the city with rhythmic pounding and hissing.

"Shosh are she Collosch- Uwah, she Colossi," Elli struggled to explain when she noticed Chloe's gaze. "She mightiest war mashines of the anshient timsh."

"Sober up already, this is horrible, woman!" Dean exclaimed as he surveyed the streets. "Surprisingly clean here. Apparently the Mekhanites invented the cleaning machine here."

"What are Mekhanites?" asked Chloe, first imagining robotic aliens by that.

"Eggshelent gwestshion, Gloe," slurred Elli. "Shee megganittes-"

"Elli, nobody can listen to that," Dean interrupted her in annoyance. "Look, we'll run along, I'll explain, and you shut up until you get your tongue back under control."

"Alright…" Elli pouted and staggered into motion.

Chloe and Dean followed her.

"The Mekhanites," Dean began matter-of-factly, "Are the followers of the god Mekhane. Also called a goddess, but it depends on the time and place the belief exists. Regardless, however, he or she was always called 'the broken one'."

They entered what looked like a craftsman's street. There was hammering and drilling and bending everywhere. Chloe noticed that many people here were missing body parts. They had been replaced with bronze-colored prosthetics. Elli next to her looked at the prosthetics with some confusion and blinked several times before finally shrugging her shoulders and walking on.

"Mekhane was a machine god," Dean continued to explain. "He had to break himself apart in order to seal his adversary and scourge of all life in this world, Yaldabaoth, within himself forever. The Mekhanites worship Mekhane because of his sacrifice and as a result are trying to build a new god in his place. As you can see, they haven't succeeded to this day; instead, many just want to be like their god, or they let him live on through their inventions."

Some children were running across the street, chasing something that looked like a bronze metal dog, however, he did not have legs, but a large spring with which he hopped across the pavement. On its back turned a wind-up key.

Undeterred, Dean continued to speak.

"The Mekhanites possessed a vast empire centuries ago. However, they were at odds with their neighbor to the east, the state of Adí-üm, which was under the control of Yaldabaoth's high priest, the Grand Carcist Ion. Eventually, a massive war broke out between the two. Adí-üm fell and the Mekhanite Empire, weakened by this battle, broke apart. Many Mekhanites tried to build new homes elsewhere after that, but all that is left of the Empire is here in Amoni."

"Why have I never heard of this before?" asked Chloe as she looked at a row of swords being hawked outside a store.

"In your time, and even before that, there were many who felt that the knowledge of metallurgy and engineering gained by the Mekhanites was too dangerous for the world to know about. You've seen the Collossi, they're a good example. Imagine what those things could do if the modern warfare and technology of your time came into play. The Collossus would be much smaller, but also much more devastating. Even now, one Collossus is enough to mow down an entire army."

They were now several meters down in elevation, but the torso of a Collossus was still visible over the houses. Chloe looked at him again.

"How do these things work?" she then asked. "Surely this body must be extremely heavy."

"I've done some reading on this," Dean explained. "Apparently these machines run through a natural reactor, a large lump of uranium in which nuclear fission has started on its own, and its heat powers the hydraulics. There are also six pilots inside the Collossi to control it. They are already lifelong heroes because they sacrifice part of their lives to pilot the Collossus due to the radiation from the reactor. I suppose with those running around out there right now, new pilots are being trained."

"Shere ish alsho shomeshing fery shpeshial todday," Elli spoke up.

She sounded a little less hammered.

"Toddday ish she day off fictoree, a nashional hollyday."

"Holiday?" Chloe asked "But the people here are all working."

She pointed at all the people who were devoting their full concentration to their metalwork.

"For you, it's working," Dean said. "To them, it's paying homage to Mekhane. Not everyone does it, but many do. There's a celebration today in honor of the victory over Adí-üm, that's why people are extra-religious on this day."

"An itsh shating shoon," Elli remarked.

The chief builder Eunasses uneasily stepped from his leg to his bronze prosthesis and back. He wore a brown ceremony gown decorated with metal and had been busy all day shooing servants and workers around in preparation for the Victory Festival. His advanced age had already given him a half bald head and a gray ruffled beard, but the stress only deepened his wrinkles and robbed him more and more of his mop of hair.

At the moment he was standing in front of Amoni's main manufacturing hall, also the central temple for Mekhane. It was a massive hall of gray stone, decorated with metalwork that showed the sacred texts. The temple was large enough to manufacture even collossi in it.

Amoni did not have it easy these days. From the southeast the wicked faith of the Hebrews was pushing up and the Mekhanite believers outside the city were becoming fewer and fewer. The festival had to be a success, otherwise the ulcer of unbelief and heresy threatened to blossom in Amoni as well. As a result, Amoni's highly praised engineering would decay and the last remnants of the Mekhanite Empire would be wiped off the map, as Adytum once was.

The deep scraping of metal on metal became audible behind him. One of the three Apparati stood behind him, Orthos, Eunasses realized.

Orthos, like all three Apparati, was not human. He was a divine machine, built by Him. He was made of bronze and looked like a fully armored warrior. His face was a mask, modeled on the ideal features of a human being. In the eyes there were two black holes.

"Chief Builder Eunasses, His Holiness requests you," he reported in a metallic buzzing voice.
Eunasses followed him, sighing.

Inside the temple there was a flurry of activity. Metal was being heat-treated, shaped, and assembled into a whole. In front of one of Amoni's latest achievements, He stood.

No one knew what his real name was or if he even had a real name. All the Mekhanites could say for sure about him was: he was the Herald of the Broken One.

The man wore a plain black robe that hid his feet. His face was hidden behind a mask of bronze, which also showed the face of a perfect man. Gears turned on it with no visible source of power.

He had come to Amoni about ten years ago. He had started as a simple engineer, but created new wonders almost every week. He said that Mekhane himself presented him with the schematics of his inventions so that he could turn them into reality, as engineers do.

When he finally built the first Apparatus, it was clear to the Lords of Amonis that this man had been sent by their god.

But even his creations were not infallible…

"You sent for me, Your Holiness?" the master builder asked officiously.

"Indeed, Eunasses," said the saint.

His voice was cold and efficient like a machine.

"How are our preparations coming along?"

Eunasses shrugged his shoulders.

"We're just putting on the finishing touches, so I'd guess in a few minutes everything will be ready."
"Excellent," commented the herald. "Tell me, chief builder, do you believe in the power of the machines I create with His schemes?"

Eunasses contorted his face.

"If I am honest, Your Holiness, I have begun to doubt," he then said. "After the fiasco with Sophia, I have to wonder if it is truly His will that we receive through the Apparati. And at least chief builder Demetrius of Ephesus agrees with me, he sent a messenger."

"Sophia, as far as I know, was on her way to Ephesus. Did Demetrius speak with her?" the saint asked quietly.

"He did," confirmed Eunasses. "After that, he had her melted down and sacrificed to Mekhane."

"I see. So you believe that my creations do not meet the divine standard because they can be misled by the witchcraft of the Hebrews. Is that correct?"

Eunasses searched for the appropriate words and finally decided to nod silently.

"Then I will renew your faith. For today Ultra will be revealed. And with him we will wage our holy war against the Hebrews, as we once did against Adytum and the traitor Ion…"

Eunasses looked up at the construct behind the herald, partly skeptical and partly hopeful.

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