The Herald of the Broken One, Part 2
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Gradually, the square in front of Mekhane's temple filled up. Chloe had never had any idea what the word religion even meant. She had become an atheist through her environment, even though things like Ku, the Grigori1 and the events in Mujin City2 had put this worldview to the test. But, as Chloe now realized, religion was not simply belief in any gods.
Religion was a way of life.
A large stage had been set up, decorated with all sorts of symbolism and sacred texts. Numerous townspeople stood around it, whispering excitedly. The rest of the square was taken up by numerous stalls offering all sorts of things. It was like being at a Christmas market.
"What's going on?" Chloe asked.
"The chief clergyman will be coming out of the temple in a few moments to give his sermon. It's kind of like the Easter sermon from the Pope," Dean explained. He lifted Chloe onto his shoulders so she could see better.
The gates of the temple opened and a small procession came out. Three people in copper full-body armor and masks in front of their faces walked in triangular formation, taking in their midst a figure hooded with black cloth. It was also masked.
"Whut, have shey reformed?" asked Elli from below. "Shoshe are not original…"
"Elli, you become the chief clergywoman, then you can determine what is worn," Dean replied, annoyed.
The procession reached the stage and stepped up. Applause was heard. People standing directly in front of the large podium held their hands or heads on the wood.
The hooded man stepped forward and individually touched the presented body parts with his left hand. An uncanny transformation took place. The flesh faded and gave way to a mechanical prosthesis. In the case of heads, the phenomenon did not capture the whole face, but a part of it. People became cyborgs.
"Shat iz also new…" Elli slurred, confused.
"My brothers and sisters," he began, "today we mark the fifty-first anniversary of our victory over Ion, the Sorcerer-King of Adytum. Our victory over the corruption of the flesh!"
Cheers went up before the man gestured for silence again.
"But what a sacrifice we had to make. Our empire fell, we were persecuted by the infidels to obtain our secrets, and to this day the persecution of ours continues outside Amoni's walls."
Betrayed silence followed the pause he paused.
"From the southeast a new danger is coming up to us. The Hebrews, Jews, worshippers of a god who in their folly they say created the whole cosmos, and of his son Jesus, who is said to perform miracles, when in truth he used the powers of the flesh!"
Booing shouts were raised and died down again with a gesture.
"Truly, in this creeping darkness, Amoni is the last beacon of Mekhane, the last light that the enemy is trying to smother. Even my envoy Sophia became the whore of the Hebrews by their shameful magic. But I tell you, Amoni will not surrender to this darkness!"
Loud rumbling sounded from the temple. The ground shook.
"With His schemes we will push back the darkness! With our hammer, we will smash every enemy on our anvil or forge them to our purpose. And I will show you that hammer which I have devised with the Broken One!"
The rumbling grew louder as a massive frame rolled out of the temple. Attached to it was a brightly polished Colossus. He resembled a human more than the other models, the upper body was actually wider than the lower body and he had real shoulders. A hammer and an anvil were engraved into his chest and he wore a helmet that appeared to be a gas mask.
And instead of bronze, it was gray.
The crowd oohed and aahed. Whispers rose.
"This is Ultra," the clergyman explained. "Built to be the strongest of them all. He'll be the first Colossus that doesn't need pilots to sacrifice their lives to him. No! This Colossus will be guided today, when the last hour of the day strikes, like the Apparati, by His words alone."
Shouts of admiration went up.
"What are Apparati?" Dean asked Elli.
She just shrugged helplessly.
"No clue. I don't know them. And the big one is new, too…"
The hooded man meanwhile continued to speak.
"…Forgive me, but it strikes me that we have guests to welcome to this wonderful celebration today. You there, step forward!"
He pointed directly at Chloe, Dean, and Elli. Wait, they did have anti-attention talismans with them. He should miss them!
Dean pointed his finger questioningly at himself as surprised faces turned to them. The man on the stage nodded.
Frowning, they stepped out of the crowd. Dean let Chloe off his shoulders again as they did so.
"Welcome to Amoni," the masked man greeted them. "The city of wonders of the human spirit."
After greeting them to the crowd, the saint gave a rudimentary bow. Elli, Dean and Chloe thought it a good idea to do the same. At least Chloe was still confused about how he had seen her.
"At least that's what I'd like to say…" the saint then said. "But what reason has moved you to avail yourselves of magic that numbs the senses and makes you unseen?"
He knew!
"Are you spies from outside? Have you even been sent by the Hebrews that you might warn them of Ultra? Speak up!"
Foul-mouthed remarks and angry shouting were heard from the audience until the hooded man silenced them with an imperious gesture.
"Uh," Dean began. "Actually, we're just tourists. As you can see, my wife and daughter attract all eyes thanks to their hair, that's why we acquired talismans, so we can attend your celebration without disturbing you. I apologize that it didn't work out."
"Tourists?" the man repeated. "Don't you know that Amoni is closed off at the moment? Except for those who bring food, stone and ores from the surrounding countryside, no one is allowed to enter this city. So I have to ask you. How did you make it past the gatekeepers?"
Dean cast a questioning glance at Elli, who again just shrugged her shoulders and expressed with her face that she had no idea about it.
"There must be some misunderstanding," Dean tried to defuse the situation, but he was interrupted.
"I don't think so. Apparati, seize them!"
The armor-wearers jumped off the stage and came up with a strange metallic-sounding noise. Their master himself raised his right hand and sent a storm of flame toward them. His targets hastily backed away from it.
"Doo da next door!" Elli commanded, and the three began to move. Several townspeople tried to prevent their escape, but Dean, running in front, simply ran them over. Behind them, the Apparati approached with mechanical-looking but amazingly fast movements.
In front of them, the door of a house came into view. Elli suddenly got wide-eyed.
"Dean, stop!"
Dean couldn't stop fast enough and crashed into the door.
"I can't open the Nexus!" Elli yelled at him.
Dean turned back in annoyance, ran toward her, and extended his fist.
It whizzed past Elli's face and hit the Apparatus that had just tried to grab her right in the mask. It was dented by the blow and showed a large crack when Dean pulled his arm back.
Behind it was not a face, but gears and glass frames.
And the blow hadn't stopped the bronze man from grabbing Elli by the arms. She was pulled away while the other two, a metal man and a metal woman, lunged at Dean together.
But now knowing he wasn't dealing with humans, he unleashed his powers.
Chloe freed herself from her shock at this unmasking and tried to help Elli, doing everything she could to unbend the Apparatus' fingers while Elli pulled and tugged.
But behind them, the hooded man was already coming, followed by a crowd of angry Mekhanites. One of them was faster than the others and tried to reach for Chloe, but he was hit in the chest by a large rock that Dean had ripped out of a crumbling wall and thrown. The man bounced back and against the saint. In the process, he accidentally ripped the mask off his face.
Elli froze when she caught sight of the visage.
Chloe had seen horror on her face many times before, but never nearly as extreme as now. She was pale as a sheet. And her knees were shaking!
"CHLOE, DEAN! FLEE! DON'T WORRY ABOUT ME!" she yelled to the two of them, at such a volume that Chloe's ears were ringing, still standing right next to her.
Dean aborted his attempts to bash the Apparati's head in with another rock, ran up to Chloe, and jammed her under his arm with fierce resistance on her part. Then he ran away as fast as he could, faster than the Apparati could follow him with their damaged legs.
"Dean, what's going on! Why are you running!"
"Because Elli said so," he answered as he ran.
"But, who is this man?" asked Chloe.
She spoke choppily through the jolts that Dean's footsteps sent through her body.
"I have no idea, Chloe. But if he manages to make Elli shake with fear at the mere sight of him, you can bet your bottom dollar he's very dangerous."

Elli continued to be in the cold grip of Apparatus as she was dragged back to the stage and Ultra. The hooded man had put his mask back on and walked beside her, followed by the two battered metal men.
How had he survived!, was all that went through Elli's mind.
"My brothers and sisters," he began, "two spies are still on the run. Do not be deceived by their appearance, for they are of the lowest of scums. Do not let them leave the city, bring them to me, dead or alive. Eunasses, you are in command!"
Shouts of approval came from the mob and an old, important-looking man in the crowd bowed. Like thick slime, the crowd swarmed from the square to hunt Chloe and Dean.
Elli, meanwhile, was being dragged toward the new Collossus. Built into the frame in which it hung was an elevator that carried her up to the entrance in the chest area.
Inside the gigantic machine was no one. The two of them were the only people here. And then, of course, there were the Apparati. In the large room, lit by torches, with its numerous metal stairs and bridges, there were lots of gears, but also lots of insulated power cables.
Then Elli saw what was probably Ultra's heart. All the cables ran together there. It looked like a two-meter diameter wide, thick ring of white plastic.
An energy portal generator…
And a little further up, where Collossus' head connected to the torso, there was a metal sphere about a meter in diameter connected to the circuit. This was a sophisticated AI, Elli realized, capable of controlling at least a hundred such Collossi at once.
"I'm sure you have some questions for me," the man said as he removed his mask and cowl.
Underneath revealed a futuristic-looking full-body suit, a short-shaven beard and dirty blond hair. They were tied in a ponytail3.
"You know, if it had been up to you, I should have disappeared like the rest. But in life, things don't go the way you want them to, don't they, I773?"
Her name… He called her by her old name…. Elli got herself under control enough to answer him.
"This… This name I have discarded, Lawrence…" she said silently.
"Ah yes," he said, as if Elli had reminded him of a birthday. "You call yourself 'Elli' now, after all. I've done my homework, you must know. But, clever idea with this Dean, I even copied you, as you can see."
"Why can't I use the Nexus?" asked Elli.
Lawrence grinned manically.
"You know reality is my playground," he said, shooting a few flames from his sleeve.
It didn't burn him.
"Creating machines like this is easy for me. Whatever I want to happen, happens. I could just teleport your sidekick here, but first of all, that wouldn't be what you deserve, and second of all, I want to be alone with you for now. There's so much I need to get back at you…"
Elli had lost…
The presence of this man was enough to turn every chance of getting out of here in one piece into dust, that was her certainty…. Not even her abilities to exploit other people's reality manipulations helped her here, for some reason she could no longer sense when Lawrence was distorting reality. She couldn't rely on help, not even Dean could stand up to an entire city.
She could only hope for a miracle….
"And now?" she therefore asked tonelessly. "You have me, now what? Are you going to lead the Mekhanites into war against the Hebrews and make sure they win? That's too much interference in the time stream, Lawrence. You're going to split the universe in two so that history can take its predetermined course in at least one version. And if both become too unstable after the split and collapse, then you've gained nothing. Then you're not only dead, you never existed, because there's nothing in which you could have existed."
"Don't be silly," Lawrence laughed. "Of course I picked a time and a universe that could handle a split. So spare me your lecture, I was your overseer after all. I almost asked if you'd forgotten, but we both know that no info you receive ever leaves your head."
He turned bitter.
"Though that's probably your fondest wish, to make your hypocrisy sound better to you, given the quantities you drink to better repress. Logos, let her go and take the bag from her."
The metal man holding Elli abruptly opened his hands, closed them around her bag, and took a step back with her.
"What are you doing?" asked Elli. "I could attack you right here, right now."
"You can't," Lawrence replied tersely. "Even if I don't just turn you into a pillar of salt, Orthos and Pneuma are behind me to defend me."
He pointed to the two Apparati positioned behind him. Elli noticed that his hands were twitching. Partly with anger, partly with anticipation.
"I put you in here for a reason, Elli. Barely room to make much of a run for it, surrounded on all sides, isolated from any allies, and even if you somehow make it to the control unit, the Collossus is a weapon. Its sole purpose is to take lives. Kind of like this…"
He pulled a twenty-first century combat knife from his belt and tossed it on the floor in front of Elli.
"Go ahead, try to pick it up."
Elli looked at the knife with disgust and turned pleadingly to Lawrence.
She didn't want to hear them. She didn't want to see them…
"Lawrence, please…"
"PICK IT UP!" he yelled.
There was a menacing, metallic scraping sound behind Elli as Logos shifted his weight slightly.
Trembling, Elli bent to the floor and reluctantly closed her fingers around the handle of the knife.
Then came the voices.

Dean had changed Chloe's grip to a fireman's carry in between, making her realize once again what pointy bones he had. He had walked tirelessly to one of the gates and seemed intent on leaving Amoni.
"Dean, shouldn't we try to help Elli somehow?"
"We can worry about that when we get somewhere were no one wants to impale us. Turn around."
Chloe did as instructed. People seemed to be flooding out of every alley behind them. Many were armed with torches, swords, spears, clubs and hammers. Ahead were what Chloe thought were the Amonian city guards, men with bronze-colored body armor and gas-mask-like helmets that would have made them fit pretty well in a nuclear post-apocalypse. It was easy to see where the mob was, as flares illuminated their position in the gathering night.
"DOWN WITH THE HERETICS!" they roared.
Dean had now taken course towards one of the city gates. Which at that moment began to open with a metallic click and groaning.
A Collossus, towering over the gate by more than two lengths, stepped through.
The ground shook under his steps as he ran up the main street.
Dean decided to get off the street and instead take the side streets that the war machine could not enter due to its size.
Except that seemed to have been planned.
"In the name of His Holiness, I command-" barked a soldier who had been waiting in the alley with his colleagues before Dean simply ran him over.
One of those still standing threw his halberd at him, which stuck in Dean's back with a loud "dong" . He didn't even seem to notice, but Chloe stared wide-eyed at the shaft as it bobbed back and forth and finally fell off.
They raced through the alleys in a wild zigzag pattern, as their pursuers seemed to come from every direction.
Then Dean finally came to a skidding halt. The street ahead of them was blocked by soldiers. An old man with a half bald head stood beside a cauldron-like apparatus with a barrel and a muzzle in front of which a small flame burned. On it stood a soldier with his fingers on a large crank.
"Surrender," commanded the old man. "If you give up your resistance, I will try to save at least the girl's life, for I cannot condemn children for false guidance. You have the word of Eunasses, the Chief Builder of Amoni."
"With all due respect, Chief Builder," Dean countered, "do you expect me to believe you when you have dozens of soldiers at your back?"
"Dean?" asked Chloe in dismay. "You're just pissing them off."
"That's the plan," Dean murmured to her.
"Think of another one!" Chloe urged him.
Dean didn't listen to her and instead let her off his shoulders.
Eunasses, meanwhile, sighed.
"You're going to give me nightmares," he reprimanded. "Soldier, in the name of the Broken One, cleanse them."
The Soldier began cranking, hesitantly at first, but then more quickly.
Dean shoved Chloe behind him and crouched over her as a storm of flames rushed toward them from the barrel.
The heat was unbearable, but Dean towered in front of her like a wall, protecting her from bursting into flames. She watched the flesh on his face burn and underneath-.
Fire.
Heat.
Burnt flesh.
Scorching metal.
Pain.
Chloe's awareness snapped as something began to work its way up inside her, something she had locked inside long ago.

"-and the days the angel Uriel showed to me, whom the Lord of glory hath set for ever over all the luminaries of the heaven,"

In Chloe, Ku looked curiously at the big black book, that had started to shake.

"No…" she whimpered…

"in the heaven and in the world, that they should rule on the face of the heaven and be seen on the earth, and be"

It tore at its restraints.

"Go away…"

"leaders for the day and the night, i.e. the sun, moon, and stars, and all the ministering creatures which make their revolution in all the chariots of the heaven."

The chains broke apart and the book opened itself…

And Chloe stated screaming.
Dean tried to reach for her, but she kicked at his hand and pressed her back against the pavement as best she could.

No more fire…

No more pain…

Dean's hand still hovered over her, though in the raging inferno it appeared like a monster's claw.
"Go away!" she cried, "leave me alone…"
"Chloe…" Dean said with a distorted murmur in his voice.
He didn't sound worried. He sounded disappointed.

"CEASE FIRE," Eunasses bellowed over the hiss of flames.
The soldier stopped cranking.
Shouts of astonishment rang out as the fire died down.
Half of Dean's face, much of his torso and left leg, and his entire left arm had been consumed by the flames. At least as far as those things could burn.
It crackled as his body cooled again. Without exception, the jaws of all the Amonians present dropped. Stunned murmurs were heard.
Dean rose while Chloe cried and screamed unrestrainedly beneath him.
He saw the Chief Builder slowly approach him with unmasked awe.
Dean reluctantly left Chloe alone, even though she had just broken his metaphorical heart. But this took precedence, not just because of Chloe, but because of Elli.
"What are you?" asked Eunasses, puzzled.
Dean began to speak with his white noise voice.
"I'm sorry it has to be this way," he said reverently. "But here we are. I am Dean, emissary and part of the Broken One himself."
He noticed Chloe crawling away behind him, oddly enough without lifting her back off the ground. But he had to get this performance right, there was just one little thing missing….
"And I came to warn you about the TRAITOR…"

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