Part 4 of 5 in The Stone Uncast

“And as each Age does, this one too came to an end. But those who had, before, so desperately wished for the end of the Age of Ending, soon came to realize that the Age of Darkness was worse. Usually in the seconds before their demise.” – The Book of Terminus 107:66

 

“I’m croaked?” asked Elysium incredulously. “How is that possible? I…I live. Right?”

“No. None of us do,” Avalon replied. “But neither can we pass on. This much we discovered from the few other spirits that we met. We do not know how, or why, this happens.”

“And we can only be seen and touched by the world of the croaked,” Valhalla said. “Basically, you picked the perfectly wrong direction in order to avoid pain. We cannot, as far as we know, croak again, but we can be hurt…”

“Look,” Trinity spoke up. “I can vouch that you’ve shuffled off of the mortal coil. I could tell the moment I saw you. Normally, I wouldn’t have pulled off a rescue. But I wanted answers. I would have asked you last night, but… You didn’t really know your… condition.”

“Great, shock will probably hit me later. But if I know how the world works, and this should stay the same, bad news never works alone. So, now what?” Elysium asked, “Give it to me Doc, I can take it.”

“Look, we’ll tell you it,” Val said. “But slowly.” She smiled. “We don’t want to Shockmancy your system too hard.”

“Oh, Titans,” he muttered. He knew that the softer she tried to cushion it, the worse it would be.

 

********************

 

He watched her croak. Avalon did not know how he survived being tossed into the portal. When he tried to continue the fight, he realized the truth. He had not survived.

The worst part of watching the remainder of the fight was being powerless to help anyone else. So when Valhalla croaked, he simply went to her side and tried to comfort her. She didn’t need it.

When the tower exploded, and the city vanished in the blast wave, wordlessly they both stood vigil over the spirit of Elysium, who was still unconscious.

They waited. There was so much that Avalon wanted to ask, but he could find no way to phrase it. And even if he could, Valhalla knew no more about their situation than he did.

Elysium finally began to stir. They sat down beside him. As Lis awoke, and looked around, Avalon reached out saying “Don’t worry. Stay calm. We’re here.”

Hs words didn’t seem to get through. Elysium jolted back, screaming “No! I can’t help you! You don’t exist anymore!”

As they tried to reach out to him, he fled the hex.

“We have to follow him,” Avalon said. “Titans know what’s happening… I get this feeling that Fate may be guiding him.”

“You just want it so that your reconciliation wasn’t in vain.”

“Noooooo… Why would you ever think that?” But he couldn’t stop the grin. Valhalla knew him too well.

“Fine.” She sighed. “I suppose it’s better than staying here.”

The light, beautiful forest surrounding Zion flashed by, gone too soon. It was soon followed by the grasslands and the plains, until they reached the mountains.

“He’s headed for the eastern range,” Avalon said. “That isn’t good. There might be bad stuff that affects the Croaked there…”

It took a dozen turns to traverse the mountains, the enormous move costs slowing them down. They had no purses, but that did not seem to matter. They kept on the move, slowly crossing the mountains, searching for any signs of Elysium.

They finally stopped moving, and looked back on what they had abandoned, peering from the top of the tallest mountain hex in the area.

Pristine wilderness hexes stared back at them. There was no sign of any farms, mines, garrisons, or cities. Where there was once a thriving side, now there was nothing. Not even the sign of a city site. That was the creepiest bit of all. The Rules were breaking down.

But on the top of that mountain, they found something. Or something found them. Well, two somethings.

“Hail travelers,” said a voice from deeper in the hex. “I’m Sergeant Brin, of Googol. But you can call me Sergey.”

The spirit that belonged to the voice walked out from the boulders of the hex, into view. Behind him floated an enormous Golemesque unit, also apparently Croaked.

“Hail,” replied Valhalla. “You are aware that we are all Croaked, right?” Blunt as always.

“I am fully aware of that, my dear. And I am trying to find out more about both it, and the state of the Erf. Do you two know anything?”

“No, sir,” said Avalon, cutting Valhalla off before she could respond to the ‘my dear’ comment. “We were just croaked a dozen turns ago, in the fall of Paradiso.”

“Ah, you must be Chief Warlord Avalon, then. And that would make this Warlady Valhalla. Pleased to meet your acquaintances. I was the Researcher assigned to this section of Erf. Me and my Search Engine.” He patted the unit next to him.

Avalon recalled about the Search Engines now. They had basic Lookamancy, Findamancy and Thinkamancy skills. They were short ranged, so required a network of them to function, but allowed Googol to maintain a network of information to rival Charlescomm. Unlike Charlescomm, however, they documented their research, and published it, rather than selling it.

The Researcher continued “Well, I’ve got a warning for you, then. The world is disappearing. We call it ‘being Packed Up’. The edge hexes are disappearing, little by little. Head for the centre of the world, the mythic First Hex, and maybe there you will survive…well, not be destroyed utterly.”

“Wait,” Avalon stammered. “Disappearing? How many hexes per turn?”

“Well, the border around the Erf, at least in the section that Googol has the resources to currently monitor, is losing a width of two to three hexes per day. But, from the most current info I had before getting Croaked by Baron von Blitzkreigs forces, the rate is increasing as we get closer to the centre. Estimates placed the number of turns remaining until we are all ‘Packed Up’ at no more than one hundred. At least if my timekeeping is accurate. Sometimes I lose track of time…”

Valhalla had regained her composure, asking “What exactly happens to the hexes?”

“They look as if they get picked up by an invisible force. Flung into the sky. Never to be seen from again. No magic thus far has been able to see onto one. Not even our Lookamancer-Thinkamancer-Findamancer linkup.”

“Titans help us,” prayed Val, “If they can. Can you help us Find our comrade? Elysium? Elysium Quæstor?”

“Yeah, sure. Search Engine?” Sergy Brin ordered. “Find Target. Quæstor, Elysium. Rank: Warlord. Side: Paradiso. Status: Croaked.”

“++Processing++” replied the Search Engine. “++About 194,000 results (0.55 seconds)++”

“Top result please, Search Engine.” It replied with a hex coordinate, fairly nearby.

“Thanks, Sergeant,” she said. “Good luck on your travels.”

“To you as well. May we meet again in better times.”

 

********************

 

“Great,” Elysium deadpanned. “So, it’s just the end of the world… Nothing major.”

“Pretty much,” replied Avalon. “But, in other news, I suggest we hastily depart.”

As they raced towards the supposed ‘First Hex’, they saw that there were many others doing the same. Some, like themselves, were croaked. Others, still alive.

The travel took many dozens of turns, but being croaked meant that nothing could actually harm them. Well, except for Trinity, but the mere fact of her being Decrypted meant that there was the fear of a Legion more behind her.

As they arrived at the First Hex, the first thing that hit them was the massive shrine to the Titans, with an inscription in fifty foot high flaming letters, reading “We apologize for the inconvenience…”

The second thing was that there were representatives from many, many sides, more than they thought ever could have existed. And they were all fighting. They saw dirty warriors yelling “Na-nu na-nu!” duelling with large battle robots led by a Warlord in green, and some wolves balancing on two legs. In the sky were large floating disks with many Sand Elves on them, choosing targets strategically. Oddly enough, penguins and egg-shaped turrets fought together against creatures bearing the logo “UPS”.

But, even facing Armageddon, no one was cooperating. No one cared. And so, as the turns passed, it got so that anyone looking outwards could see the occasional hex being flung up into the sky. But no one looked.

And so it was, that the First Hex became the Last Hex, and there was Nothing surrounding it. And even as it was picked up, everyone fought until everything was enveloped in Darkness.

Part 4 of 5 in The Stone Uncast

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