Qirani shifted her goggles from her eyes to her forehead and leaned back from the engine. Fire aspect Remnants burned inside the metallic chamber that was bigger than her entire house. She could see the spirits through the viewpoints pursuing their strange Remnant tasks. Even with heat and dampening scripts it was a sauna in here. Though not nearly as relaxing as the actual saunas she visited on her occasional holidays. Without her goggles she could get unfiltered looks at the engine’s control panel. It seemed fine. She'd welded two metal plates together and the control script was whole again. She gave it long eye making sure the light stayed steady.
When she was certain that the script was functional she sighed in relief and gathered up her tools. Her personal bound spirit was contained in a tank on her back. Burning Swan was a natural fire spirit she’d raised for years. And she could channel his energies for welding or, theoretically for combat. She hadn’t seen any duels since graduating the Academy and she didn’t expect she ever would again. Her grades in the arena had been adequate at best.
Her supervisor, a pudgy woman named Torkle, slammed the door open in an enthusiastic burst and practically danced down the stairs. She had a massive cloud of gray hair and a pair of smaller spirit tanks strapped to her forearms instead of a large one on her back.
“Oh my darling, my favorite how are you doing this fine evening?" Torkle sang. She did a pirouette and finished her spin with a flourish as she reached Qirani. Qirani smiled in spite of herself. Today she had planned to duck her supervisor and get home on time for once but Torkle’s enthusiasm was infectious.
“Not so bad” Qirani admitted “Finished sooner than I thought and we didn’t have any further breaches.” Torkle gasped in amazement, raising her hands to her lips. “You’re a genius and a savant! Without you we would be ashes in a crater.”
If Torkle saw someone lace up their boots she would exclaim that no one had ever tied such a perfect knot. When Qirani had finished her hundredth job with the company Torkle had commissioned a light sculpture of the triumphant moment. The job had been the inspection of rivets in a sewer runoff pipe and it had taken fifteen minutes. Still Qirani’s cynicism melted before Torkle’s positivity like ice under the sun “Nothing that bad, maybe a few burns.”
“Burns!” Torkle fluddered her collar as though overcome by the heat though she had only been in the engine room for a few seconds. “Theres nothing worse than the heat. To me you stave off doom. You’ll have dinner with our family tonight won’t you? I’ll take no for an answer but I won’t be happy about it.”
Qirani considered the offer instead of rejecting it out of hand like she usually did. A little money saved was a little closer to the vacation of her dreams. A local travel agency had been promoting a tour of the exotic Ashwind continent home of the dragons. She’d always wanted to see the place and since the tour made use of existing portal networks they could keep travel times down to only a month’s journey either way. Any use of portals skyrocketed the price since those were the workings of a Sage. Of course there was the cost of missing several months of work. But steadily she inched toward her dream.
She was about to accept Torkle’s offer when Burning Swan whispered in her mind. "Enemy" the spirit whispered. Burning Swan didn’t speak in actual words but in complex impressions passed through their bond. Suddenly the familiar clanks and hisses of the engine room sounded ominous and the shadows in the corners deepened. Qirani extended her spiritual sense but felt no one other than herself and Torkle. The supervisor frowned noticing her distress.
“Oh my, what’s wrong? You didn’t forget something did you? I left my spare wrist strap here last week and wouldn’t you know it that was the very day that my first one broke. I had just bought it too and it was a nicer one than I usually
She continued prattling but Qirani was paying more attention to her bond spirit. "Enemy?" she asked. The simpler the message the more clearly the spirit would understand. Burning Swan’s mental impression was firm."Enemy." His thoughts focused on Torkle. Qirani wondered if she should take Swan to a Soulsmith. Maybe a drudge could figure out where his senses had gone wrong. Torkle was harmless in every sense of the word. Not only had she once wept when she accidentally shut the door on a lizard’s tail but even if she did go mad and suddenly attack she wouldn’t be much of an opponent. Qirani wasn’t a fighter but she had still been forged through years of hard work. Torkle was soft and frail and much older.
The supervisor had one bond spirit of life and one of dreams which she used to monitor and coordinate her workers. Qirani was in more danger from burning her skin on an overheated bolt. Even so she decided to play it cautious. Just in case. “Torkle? You haven’t had any strange dreams have you?” Only days ago after the sky had turned black and the world had panicked one eyed leaves had drifted throughout the city and whispered reassurance. The voice of Emriss Silentborn the Monarch, spoke to the citizens directly and told them they were safe, protected.
Everyone Qirani knew had gotten the same message. Probably everyone on the continent had. But the Monarch had left a warning as well to remain on guard in their dreams. If they met a stranger there who asked to enter their minds they should deny him. That had been strange, of course but it was the warning of a Monarch. Torkle gasped when Qirani asked about her dreams. “Oh I almost forgot to tell you, I have had the best sleep of my life lately. I have this tea that you drink before bed and Emriss stake my lips now if I know what they put into it but the second I close my eyes I drift right off.
She kept chittering but she didn’t say anything about meeting a stranger in her sleep, Qirani didn’t hear anything wrong. A wary voice came to her again. "Look!" Burning Swan commanded. Qirani’s senses shifted somehow in a strange direction that she didn’t have the words for. She opened her Copper's sight and looked at the world but only a little. She extended her perceptions halfway too. This felt like Burning Swan had forcibly made her open an eye in her spirit halfway. The sensation was hazy and frustrating even uncomfortable but after only a moment Qirani saw something. A glimmer of white light hovering behind Torkle’s head. like a halo or perhaps a crown.
Qirani’s breath died and for a moment she couldn’t even speak. Then she bolted for the exit. She took the metal stairs two at a time leaving Torkle sputtering in confusion behind her. Qirani dashed down the metal catwalk reaching out her perception for a script on the wall ahead of her, the emergency alarm. Qirani triggered it with a flow of madra as she flew out of the room slamming the heavy door after her. She panted as she leaned against it. Through the thick glass of the round porthole at the center she saw Torkle heaving her way up the stairs. The enthusiastic energy that had filled the supervisor earlier had wiltered leaving a heavy weight of disappointment that hung visibly on her.
Her muffled voice came through the door. “Qirani why, this isn’t funny!?”
Tears filled Qirani’s eyes. She didn’t quite know what to do. She had heard the rumors of what happened to people wearing that crown, the legends really. But Torkle seemed fine. She didn’t know what to do but that was all right. She didn’t have to know. Security arrived a moment later, wearing thick tanks on their back and their limbs covered by the energy of their bound spirits. They strode up to Qirani as she stammered out her story.
“Torkle! She! My supervisor! Crown! I saw it! My spirit warned me!” Enemies, Burning Swan said. And this time Qirani heard the distinct tones of despair. Dreading what she would see she once again half opened her spiritual senses as Swan had shown her. Both guards had a faint white ring floating behind their heads. She backed up against the wall as the alarm died and the door slid open. A panting Torkle made it through turning to glare at Qirani.
“What has gotten into you? If you don’t want to have dinner with us I’m not going to force you. Is it my cooking?” Torkle still seemed normal but disturbingly so. Qirani glanced down the hallway toward the exit. She would never make it not with security here. You didnt get to be a company guard by only getting mediocre grades in your arena classes. Torkle knelt at her side and gave her a kindly smile. “Poor thing you're so frightened? What do you think is going to happen to you?”
Qirani shivered and didn’t answer. “Come on then, shoo boys and leave her alone. Let’s talk in my office my sweet girl.”
Torkle led Qirani down the hallway but at the first corner they rounded Qirani shrieked. There was a body lying in blood soaked carpet. He wore a tank on his back and a security uniform. But without seeing his face she didn’t recognize him. The first guard strode over the body the second stopped at the sound of her shriek and Torkle turned with a frown. She was standing with one foot casually braced on the mans skull. Are you still scared? You’re safe with me Qirani I swear.
“Did you kill him?” Qiranis accusatory finger trembled. Torkle looked around blankly. “Who?” “Him right there! You’re standing on his head!” Torkle looked all the way around the hallway until her expression softened. “Oh dear. Oh dear. You need that vacation more than I realized. Stress can get to all of us sweet girl.” With a dawning horror, Qirani realized that this wasn’t an act. Torkle really couldn’t see the man’s body "enemy" Burning Swan insisted.
Qirani followed Torkle to her office and sat on a plush chair. The place was so ordinary and familiar that it was easy to forget anything was wrong. Torkle chattered as she brewed tea while Qirani remained silent. The supervisor poured two cups and slid one over on a saucer. "Take a drink and relax you poor thing. I didn’t mean to work you so hard.”
Qirani took it on reflex. She had tea with Torkle hundreds of times. Before she thought about it she had already taken her first sip. Someone hammered on the office door. Torkle didn’t seem surprised. “Could you get that for me, dear?”
Qirani had her hand on the door, but Burning Swan was vibrating in its case trying to extend fiery wings. "Danger!" She removed her hand. “Why don’t you get it?” “It has to be you.” Torkle sipped from her own tea and smiled. “Go on my girl." A man’s voice came from outside, regal and assured. “Let me in Qirani and I will explain everything.”
She stumbled back from the door and looked from her tea to her supervisor. “You brought me into a dream” The steel container strapped to Torkle’s left wrist was open and there was no shimmering purple light coming from inside. Her Dream Remnant was missing. She had used a technique or an elixir in the tea, or both. Qirani looked at the window which was made of the same thick barely transparent glass as most in this place. She wasn’t strong enough to break her way through.
But she could melt it. "Swan, please?" With a quick flick of madra she released a panel on the side of her spirit tank. A wing of flame madra emerged and plunged into the glass which began to glow red hot. Torkle leaned back so fast she spilled her tea. “Really now, you’re going to dry out my skin” Qirani’s own skin was singed by the time she melted enough glass and she wasn’t even sure that going out a different way would help her escape. How much of this was a dream and how much was real?
She had to try something. She almost leaped through but the red hot glass around the hole made her hesitate. As did the voice from the door. “There’s no risk to you,” the stranger said. “Life is far safer for my friends than my enemies.” If Qirani hadn’t been warned she might have opened the door already. But she knew who the voice belonged to, the Silent King..
She gritted her teeth and prepared to plunge through the hole in the glass to the desolate and metal and concrete streets outside. It was late enough that no one was nearby and she wasn’t sure if that was a curse or a blessing. The burning glass was a threat one she could risk. She snapped her goggles over her eyes and pulled up the collar of her thick fire resistant work uniform. Then she screamed as a face floated out of the shadows from the window a face but not a human one.
It was like a floating head with pebbly flesh such a dark purple as to be almost black. One giant eye took up most of its face and its mouth was stretched into a strange almost smile with an expression she couldn’t read. It had two boneless arms that undulated slowly. "I have come to pull you from the abyss of silence" the spirit whispered "To free you from the chains that bind your mind and restore you to the waking world."
Then as though if it had suddenly remembered something it added "And don’t be afraid" Qirani commanded Burning Swan to attack but its fiery wing shivered and retreated. "Not enemy", the spirit told her, "and strong"
There came a crash from behind Torkle’s desk. The supervisor had hurled her teacup, part of a set she’d inherited from her mother to the ground. Where it shattered. She glared furiously at the one eye spirit with teeth bared.
“Get out” Torkle shrieked “I’ll claw out your soul!” The dark, floating spirit giggled. "That would be impressive." The Silent King’s voice from the door was amused. “Intruders? How bold.”
A force slammed into the door shaking the room. Qirani hesitated only another instant before she reached out to the strange spirit tendril. If this was an elaborate trick by the Dreadgod to get her to walk outside it was working. The spirit pulled her out through the glass coming within an inch of searing her flesh off. But Qirani didn’t land on the street outside Torkle’s office. She was back in the engine room standing before a welded steel panel. Had she fallen asleep after finishing her job? How would that be possible? The dark spirit still floated before her, chuckling in an unnerving voice.
"Walk with me, unless you wish to see the void of death." “Who are you?” she demanded “What’s going on?” "You’ll see "it said "And you can call me Dross."