There was no sound within the dim-lit azure room, save the labored breaths of the captives. A man and a women knelt upon the ground, recovering from stupor, nude and bound at the neck, hands and ankles by scandium restraints, beside a great pool that stretched nearly the entire length of the room, in which sleek forms darted and writhed, dim-lit from below such that its rays, glistening like sliver, splayed the slated walls and low ceiling above.
Before the prisoners, dozens of hovering drones, argent and barely visible, cut wide, silent arcs through the air above the reservoir. Some dipping slowly in and out of the pool.
A placeless voice echoed. Gentle, yet resolute.
“I could square the circle, were there chalk enough. Yet your nails scrape the board.”
From the waters, dark shapes stirred and made way for the slowly surfacing form of a pale man garbed in a sleek, scaled obsidian vestment. He wore tight gloves and padded shoes of similar material. His hair, short and swept back by the liquid. Unblinking electrum eyes, effulgent in the gloam. Flashing like calcite in a mineshaft.
“Aestival’s faithful. Here. Now. Disrobed. In body. As in spirit.”
The words sounded from all directions.
The bound man looked into the murky reach and spoke with trepidation and disdain.
“You’re killing this world.”
“I am reforging it. You are killing. Noble blood has been shed because of you and your compatriot’s actions, Mr. Kallen. Had you and Ms. Elleway not organized the attack on the grid, many would still be alive and we would not be having this conversation. It is useless to argue. Time is an arrow. And we are not yet the archers. The bow is missing. The quiver, empty.”
Raymon Kallen, shackled and despondent, looked to the woman, five feet to his left. Fear stark upon her face. Kallen grimaced.
Eidos moved towards the pair without looking directly at either, stepping from the pool by way of a wide stair that ended even with the landing; the drones dutifully following in his wake, like a great, metallic cloak.
“What do you want?” The woman screeched suddenly.
Kryos bent slightly to the woman and took her face gingerly in his left hand, raising her chin. He paused a moment, observing her visage and then spoke evenly.
“To see your soul. Clear as your flesh.”
“Leave her alone!” Kallen thundered. Kryos ignored the injunction and stared fixedly down at the young woman before him, who shivered fearfully under his touch.
“A fertile specimen. The seed, yet to be planted.”
Tears streamed from the corners of her large brown eyes as Kryos caressed her cheek. “Beautiful. Yet barren. Like a desert plain.”
“Take your hands off of her, you sick sonofabitch.”
Kryos gently wiped a tear from the woman’s eye and straightened, looking towards the small droplet of water upon his finger. He smudged it between thumb and index with a look of fascination.
“When you murdered your fellows, did you weep for them?”
Elleway moaned and bent over her knees, forehead to the floor.
“Leave her alone!” Kallen screamed, pulling against the metallic restraints which bound him to the floor.
Eidos straightened, gazing out across the pool, where the strange shapes coiled beneath the surface.
“Bloody lovers. Unfruitful in their union. Steadfast in stagnation. Had you children, what would they say?”
The drones pressed close to the quivering woman’s body as she raised her head and looked toward Kryos.
“Please,” the woman begged, gripping the man’s legs, “Forgive me.”
“Elle. Don’t.” Kallen warned.
“I’ll do anything. Anything.”
“Anything?” Kryos mused opaquely, still looking out across the placid waters.
“Yes. Anything. Don’t hurt me. Please.”
Kryos removed a whale-bone dagger from beneath the folds of his synthetic scaled overcoat and handed it to the woman, gesturing towards Kallen.
“Fair exchange for fair value. Life spared. If taken.”
“What assurance do I have?”
“The choice is yours—alone. Decide. Now.”
Kallen shook his head as the woman reluctantly took the blade.
“Elle, what are you doing?”
Kryos gestured at the restraints, causing them, as if by some gealdory, to fall from the woman’s body and clatter about the shimmering, marbled floor.
The woman rose hesitantly, for a moment, unable to look toward her comrade.
“You can’t trust him. You think he’ll let you go? Are you out of your mind?”
She walked towards Kallen as if under the auspices of a leaden cloak, tearful but resolved, as the drones followed attentively, curious of the scene’s portents.
“Elle. I love you. You’d throw it all away? You’d throw it all away?”
The woman shook her head and tightened her grip on the blade and drew back her hand to strike.
The dagger fell.
Kallen gasped, closing his eyes, waiting for the pain and eternity’s embrace.
After two beats of his heart, he opened his eyes and looked down to behold the dagger’s blade.
A hologram. Flickering.
Elle moaned and stabbed him again with the false brand, shoving the fuzzing projection at his chest til the flat, ineffectual hilt met skin with a muffled thump.
Weeping, she straightened and dropped the bladeless dagger. Body quaking. Her eyes, wide, fearful and ashamed.
Eidos gestured towards the woman, holding Kallen’s terror-struck gaze as the drones began to hum with increasing volume.
“The soul. Naked as the flesh. Vainly does it abjure the hollow contrition of its crux. ”
The drones shrieked and tore the woman in half, throwing her rent and leaking corpse into the pool where it was swarmed by the dark shapes within. Monstrous eels; electric blue eyes widening with feral bloodlust. Distended jaws, rheum-smattered and unsated. Amethyst beneath the frothing waves.
Kallen watched with horror. No words availed themselves to his trembling lips.
He hung his head and wept as Eidos stalked slowly towards him. The sounds of the ichorous beasts’ feast filling the cavernous expanse.
“We fought for freedom.” Kallen cried suddenly, eyes bugging from his sockets, body convulsing with hysterical emotion.
“To hold freedom as an ultimate end is not to be free, but to be bound by desire for it. Acceptance of subjugation is necessary for liberation from abject constraint. Your misapprehension of freedom, of desire, has cost you both.”
Kryos ran his hands through Kallen’s hair tenderly.
“When the square is drawn. When the last, scraping finger is severed. We will stand athwart the carcass of the cosmos, and hang a new dawn upon an artificial sky.”