Erik’s magicks worked to minimize the vibration, easing his fear enough he could begin to work out what had happened. While it did nothing to stop the horrid thrumming, it did insulate his mind and thus spare his sanity enough he regained control of his emotions. He leaned down, bending his knees slightly, placing his hands there, taking deep, cleansing breaths. But something was wrong – he felt no rush of air into his lungs. It also occurred to him he couldn’t really feel his knees beneath his hands, either.
With this revelation, his body grew even paler – no transparent! he realized with a shock.
‘Of course! I’m not really here! A vision then,’ he thought. ‘I am caught up in Sari’s link with Whocate.’ He shook his head. ‘I should have listened to Narik, blast it!’ he cursed. But knowing now that he was not really there physically lessened the shock and confusion only slightly. He knew he would have to ride it out until the goddess was done with his seeress/wife, but that fact only brought on more confusion. If Whocate had come to claim Young Jim’s soul and that had been done, then why was he here? Why had Whocate not let Sari’s mind go and why in the Five Provinces was he brought to this place of all places?
With nothing pleasant to look at, he looked to the skies and was startled to see a brilliant nursery of newborn stars in the heavens. They burned an intense blue, covering practically the entire sky from horizon to horizon. “The Pleiades!” he breathed in awe. Erik knew this constellation, knew its normal position in the skies over Mountainville from his astronomy studies and how large it should have appeared. It was a thousand times larger than it should be and knowing that made the Whoticore male realize it must have some significance he was meant to be aware of, but what exactly that was and why, he had no idea.
Their presence overwhelmed his senses, even making him ill though he had no physical body at the present time. That in itself was encouraging. It meant he was still attached to his body – wherever it was. He looked away, back down to earth. He was surrounded now by a crumbling, desiccated building. The ruins showed it had been taller than the tallest buildings he had ever seen in Mountainville, its topmost floor lost from his sight. Now only its skeleton and bits of some interior walls remained, that and remnants of a white marble floor with veins of black obsidian running through it.
The symbol Erik had seen in Sarilayna’s eyes and on the plains outside was picked out in black on the section of the floor at his feet.
Erik looked around. The room he was standing in was only a reception area, so he started walking.
Many rooms showed evidence of being labs with tables, chairs, chemical cabinets against the walls – not unlike how they were now in the universities in his own world.
Towards the center of the first floor, one room at its center had not only been a lab, it also had housed what had been a small nuclear accelerator at its heart in a subfloor. The outer casing had been burned through and what he recognized as fuel rods lay cold and dead in its core.
“But that can’t be!” he whispered. “These things have a half-life of 25,000 years! It hasn’t nearly been that long since Plainsville was destroyed!” Straightening, he looked around, searching for a cause or some clue that made sense as to what could have sucked the sum total energy so completely out of a nuclear reactor in so short a time.
There was nothing. Just a cold, dead room in a cold, dead building abandoned so long even the walls of the upper floor had disintegrated, leaving only the skeletal remnants of its steel bones. Staring thoughtfully into shafts of weak light streaming through the cracked and broken walls, Erik realized with a start that not even dust stirred.
Even the dust mites had not survived.
He walked out, mind awhirl with questions and no answers. The horror stories told in school, in hushed whispers at the political meetings he, Narik and their father had attended had not been exaggerated. In truth, they had not even come close as to the real truth that was the apparent mystery of this place. It just all made no sense!
Then he noticed something else that set this room apart from the others. There was a wall at one end that had survived the aeons despite all the others having at least major damage if not being completely gone. As he walked towards it, he felt a heart-pounding, mounting fear worse than any he had ever experienced in his entire life. The fear grew worse the closer he came to it and as much as he wanted to back away, something dragged him towards it he was utterly unable to fight.
The broken door was of very heavily reinforced steel and that was the only reason it had survived so long. Once again he caught sight of a symbol on the floor, but instead of being outlined in iridescent blue as the others had been, this one was red, firey and glowing.
Erik knew the mystical symbol, but this one had been slashed in half, the halves separated by a few inches. “The ouroboros,” he whispered.
What was it Old Jim had said before he died? Erik fought to remember. His heart (back in his body) pounded with the sudden recall…
The ouroboros broke when they –
He entered the room, dragged by a persistent, unseen force. Erik saw it was not just the door that had been insulated and reinforced. The entire room had…the walls, the flooring – everything, as if to withstand a nuclear blast.
Closing his eyes, he swallowed uneasily once again. ‘Yes, that’s it. A safe room in case that reactor went…that’s all it is’.
It was, of course, a ridiculous lie he was telling himself for comfort. No one, no matter how well protected in a room so close to that reactor would have been spared if it had blown. And that was something else that was bothering him. It didn’t look like it had blown. Sure, the fuel rods were scattered, the outer casing breached, but any blast would have thrown the rods clear of the reactor and broken them. Neither was the case. Still, something, some force had sucked the life from them, probably the same force that had disintegrated the atomic bonds holding the inner walls and outer concrete casing together.
No, the feel of this room was it had been used for something else. An echo of long-past lingering terror and pain were so thick in the very air surrounding him he could feel it, even though it had happened centuries ago. Forcing his eyes open, he wanted to find out why so he could put as much distance between him and this purgatory as possible.
He had probably seen the fact there was no drywall nor paint on the walls when he had entered. He must have blocked it out of his mind at the time. Now it registered, along with the disintegrating metal that covered the walls, floor and ceiling. Not even rust, which is an active, living organism, survived! He shook his head, stunned.
Investigating further, Erick saw that equally damaged metal tubing in the two longest walls ran in tight, parallel lines that converged into one large tube at the end of each wall. With a trembling hand, he followed the path of the tubing on the closest wall to him.
It connected to a long-dead furnace.
When he had confirmed the room was a crematorium, it gave him the strength to use his terror to regain control of his ethereal self and stumble, gasping, out of the terrible place. Leaning against a broken section of wall outside, he fought to control his fear and loss. It made no sense! The place was long, long dead, yet the sensation of deep personal loss accompanied the echo of tears stinging his eyes.
The ouroboros broke when they burned her.
It was as if the land had died in mourning…but mourning who. Who had died there?
In the end, it didn’t matter. It had happened, the repercussions had been fatal not just for its victims, but for the entire region. Erik sank to the floor at last and sobbed.
After a long, torturous moment, the sadness faded enough Erik could move again. Still trembling, he wasted no time getting up and putting as much distance between the horrible room and himself as possible.
But it was not done with him yet. He began to hear voices coming from behind him, back in that dreadful place. He froze. Several were naggingly familiar. They were indistinct, but he clearly heard a woman’s voice among them.
Forcing his ethereal body to turn around, he was relieved at the cessation of his primal gut reaction of earlier.
“You’re certain the engines are dead?” came a man’s voice as he approached…one very familiar voice.
No, it can’t be! Erik thought in surprise. Narik?
“Not just dead – disintegrated, as soon as we touched down!” another, unfamiliar male replied. “I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it crumble right in front of me.”
“Aging…as we are.” Another unfamiliar voice declared.
“Except for you damnable Whoticores!” the unmistakably sharp and sarcastic, though raspy voice of Jim Solare snapped. “Why is that?”
Erik shook his head, not believing what his ears were telling him. It couldn’t be the Solaran. They had seen him die – right before his, Narik and Sarlayna’s eyes!
It was then he heard the labored breathing of another – a woman, in the same area. Panting, she fought to hold back a scream and utterly failed.
The familiar voice spoke again. “We can’t stay here! Serena can’t have Luna here in this hell-hole!”
Erik realized with a jolt that the man’s voice was definitely whom he had suspected – Jim Solare. “It can’t be,” he whispered. “He’s dead!”
The Whoticore male followed the hollow, echoed voices back into the crematorium. Perhaps it held less terror now because there were other living beings here now to distract him, but the feeling stayed in the background in his head, still warning him away. Unwilling to enter that room again, he stood just outside the doorway.
“Tell that to the child, Solaran.” another woman’s voice said with an all-too-familiar sarcasm. “No one informed her of your desire for her to be born at Westwind!” Erik smiled for the first time since arriving in Plainsville. It was quickly replaced by concern as he realized she had been dragged here with him.
“Sari? Of course you are here. This is your vision,” Erik whispered, his surprise at her presence even less now that he knew this was the event of the birth of Loki’s daughter.
“We all desired to stay in Mountainville where she could have been born in the safety of our House. Your cowardice forced this foolishness that landed us here!” his wife/priestess snapped angrily.
“Dr. Compton assured us we had had time to return to Westwind, woman,” Young Jim snorted in disgust. “Do not blame me for this!”
Despite knowing how well his wife could defend herself against anyone’s verbal attacks, Erik’s familial instinct to protect his House members forced past his fear, causing him to stumble through the destroyed outer doorway and back into the steel room of death.
There were four men in the room – Jim Solare, another he assumed was the airbus pilot, a tall, skinny male, pale as death, and Narik. They all ignored him as if he weren’t there. In fact, all of them had frozen as if time had stopped for them.
There was something wrong about the tall stranger that made warning bells go off in Erik’s head. He couldn’t explain it, but he wanted to bodily throw the man across the room, or out of the room and away from his family. Every fiber in his being screamed, “Threat!” and it took a moment for him to stop and master his reaction before he inspected the others and realized with a start that there was also something wrong with Jim.
Upon closer inspection of the Solaran male, Erik Whoticore immediately saw what it was. The man was not just older beyond the age he had been when arriving at House Whoticore, he was aging before Erik’s eyes right now. Not quickly, but quick enough that if Erik stopped and watched him for more than 30 seconds, he could see another hair on the man’s head turn from brown to grey, to brittle straw, the skin of his face also very slowly drying out, sagging, taking on the discoloration of its pigmentation. It was as if just being in Plainsville was sucking the youth and life out of the man. The sight was horrifying, to say the least.
A quick look to the taller, paler man confirmed the same thing was happening to him, but thankfully not to Erik’s brother Narik.
Moving beyond what was happening to them, and Erik’s sense of revulsion at the phenomena, he saw now that Jim was on one side of a very pregnant female, and Sarlayna was on the other, assisting the helpless woman as she stood, white knuckles gripping the remains of a shattered, concrete-covered pole. The four were as transparent as Erik himself, and oblivious to his presence, involved as the two men were arguing, with Jim looking back and forth from the other man to the labor-burdened female in his charge. It was only then that Erik heard the woman’s pained screams.
“Serena is close,” Sari told them. “Cease your prattling, you idiots!”
“Serena Solare. Yes, of course, it is,” Erik breathed.
His wife looked up, surprised, in Erik’s direction. “Erik? How in Tartarus are you here?!?”
“I do not know,” he confessed helplessly, coming closer, desperate for a familiar, comforting presence in this wretched place.
Sari was able to give him her attention more as the birthing mother relaxed, trembling and breathing heavily, quieting in between labor pains. His wife’s body took on a more solid form Erik could no longer see through. “When is it for you?” she asked.
“What?” he asked, at first confused. “The last thing I recall was Jim Solare dying,” Erik explained to Sarlayna. “and you…I think Whocate took over your consciousness. Is that what you mean?”
“That was months ago, husband,” she said shortly. “And Jim Solare is not – “ Her pregnant charge caught her attention as the woman’s screams intensified again, worse than ever. “You will not be here long, I think.”
Erik came around, getting a better view of the Solaran female clinging to the pole. A dark glow lit up her abdomen with a strange black sheen that shimmered with the same neon blue iridescence Sari had been engulfed in when he had last seen her. He caught Sari’s eye. “Loki’s daughter?” he asked. “Is she well?”
His wife nodded tightly in the negative. “No heartbeat,” she whispered away from Serena’s hearing. “She did not make it.”
Erik felt a particularly strong bitterness grip his heart at the news. The child was the last, newest connection the family had to their patriarch and to lose that, along with the hope of their bloodline continuing, was sharply disappointing.
He blinked and Serena’s screams faded. She was gone, but everyone else that remained were now even more aged, crumbling into desiccated corpses before his horrified eyes, the skin cracking and falling away, the bones disintegrating into dust – even Narik and Sari’s.
His body must have been crying in reaction, back wherever it was, for his vision blurred with tears, stinging his eyes. He felt a soft weight in his hands and looked down. There, wrapped in Sari’s cloak was a newborn yet stillborn – a tiny infant girl, perfect in face and form, yet not breathing, not moving.
The sound of boots crunching dirt underneath them made him look up.
In front of him was a young girl he had never seen before. She had long, dark hair, pale, smooth skin and was dressed in all black with a black cloak lined in shimmering, electric blue. She wore a crown of silver with his house seal of the triple dragonfly upon it. She had Serena’s high cheekbones, the slight slant of her eyes, but also the jawline and brows of Lord Loki Whoticore. Her eyes were completely black, like a Whoticore male’s who had gone mad. Like Loki’s were his entire life.
She came up to Erik as he cradled the dead child. Far from the taint of insanity, her eyes were full of sadness and compassion.
“I’m sorry,” Erik felt compelled to say. “She’s gone.”
She cocked her head at him in curiosity, not understanding the words, but he thought she must understand his grief as she nodded to him, her slim-fingered hand traveling from the blanket to touch the infant’s forehead. It was then Erik saw the bluish-black aura around the child was also around the girl’s hand.
His eyes widened in revelation. “Your – you’re her. You’re Luna Solare!”
Her voice rang in his head, pure and sweetly echoed, like a faded memory.
Then it all faded from Erik’s senses as he lost consciousness.
Next Chapter – Times to Come Now Gone